The continuing resolution that was passed by Congress in December — which kept the government’s lights on through March 4 — addressed a key problem by providing $5.7 billion to cover a funding shortfall in the Pell Grant program that resulted from increased demand for grants in the face of the Great Recession. House Republicans griped that the funding was included, but were not successful in getting it removed.
However, when the resolution runs out in March, Pell Grants will once again be under siege, as both House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Education Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) are eying the program for cuts. But did Senate Republicans make a deal that Pell Grants would be fully funded for the full 2011 year?
According to a spokesman for Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, they sure did:
A spokesman for [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell, R-Ky., denied that McConnell made such an agreement. Mississippi Republican Cochran’s spokesman, however, said there may have been a “general understanding” the Pell funding would be continued for the rest of the fiscal year. He noted that Senate Republicans were waiting to hear from their House counterparts on how they proposed to cut $100 billion from the federal budget.
Despite what Cochran’s understanding of the deal is, both McConnell and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) seem to be on-board with putting Pell Grants on the chopping block. “I think everything is on the table,” Alexander said. “Anytime you’re borrowing 42 cents of every dollar you spend, you have to say everything is on the table.”
But reducing Pell Grants not only has a detrimental effect on students in the short-term, it hinders the country’s long-term economic competitiveness. America is now 12th worldwide in percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with a college degree, and by 2025, according to estimates by the Lumina Foundation, our nation will be short 16 million college-educated workers, which is a shortfall that Pell Grants can help to address. Saving a few dollars now is not worth denying access to potential college graduates, particularly since Pell Grant recipients come largely from traditionally underserved communities.
Of course, even if Senate Republicans renege and try to cut Pell Grants, Senate Democrats and President Obama can stand in their way. But it would be encouraging if the Senate GOP already agreed that such a move is not in the cards, regardless of what sort of funding level comes out of the House.