Poor college students would receive larger federal financial-aid packages under a plan offered last week by House Republicans that Democrats contend could divert money from K-12 initiatives.
The plan calls for increasing the maximum annual Pell Grant award by $400, to $3,525, during the 1999-2000 school year as well as raising funding for campus-based student-aid programs, said Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
“Across the nation, there is a crying need for [college] grants,” Mr. Goodling said at a press conference.
The Pell Grant program was begun in 1972. The grants, now offered to families with annual incomes below $30,000, are projected to serve some 4 million students during the next academic year.
While the maximum grant award has increased steadily since 1995, its spending power dropped 4.7 percent between 1980 and 1998, when adjusted for inflation, according to a committee statement.
President Clinton also has proposed increasing the maximum Pell Grant award, but by $125 instead of $400.
“Unfortunately, the president’s request ... is not the substantial commitment we had in mind,” Mr. Goodling said.
Students vs. Students?
But some Democrats fear that paying for the GOP plan could mean cutting programs for elementary and secondary students.
“Democrats support increased funding for Pell Grants and campus-based aid, but not at the expense of other educational programs,” Rep. William L. Clay of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House education committee, said in a prepared statement.
A spokesman for Democratic committee members declined to elaborate on which K-12 initiatives might be threatened by the Republican proposal.
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley also criticized the plan.
“The president’s balanced-budget plan is fully paid for and makes needed investments in improving our children’s education at every level--preschool, elementary, high school, and college,” Mr. Riley said in a prepared statement. “We cannot pit one group of students and interests against another when all need our support to help them succeed.”
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., a member of the subcommittee that deals with postsecondary education, said the Republican plan would do no such thing.
“This is not a fight between higher education and K-12,” Mr. McKeon said at the news conference. “We just want to make sure everyone understands our priorities.”
The plan will be introduced in the House as a nonbinding resolution. Lawmakers will vote on the measure in late May, said Jay Diskey, the spokesman for Republicans on the education committee.
A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 1999 edition of Education Week as GOP Plan Would Increase Size of Pell Grants