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College Math

There's a bit of a problem in the budget for the Department of Eduction enacted last month: a $1.3 billion problem, actually.

While Congress raised the maximum award under the Pell Grant program to $4,000, Department of Education officials say the $10.3 billion appropriated to aid college students isn't enough to meet that level.

"Basically, [Congress] wrote a check for $11.6 billion, but only deposited $10.3 billion into the account," William D. Hansen, the department's deputy secretary, said last week.

He said the Bush administration this week was going to formally request a supplemental spending bill for fiscal 2002, which began Oct. 1, to make up the shortfall.

The administration had put Congress on notice before the budget bill was completed in December, warning that the money on the table for Pell Grants would be consumed at the old ceiling, $3,750 per grant.

"The reason we're facing a shortfall is ... that we have more kids going to college and a softer economy," Mr. Hansen said.

The catch is that the administration doesn't intend to seek extra cash to fully fund Pell Grants. Instead, it will ask Congress to make cuts elsewhere in the existing 2002 budget for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

The administration will make some suggestions for cuts, including congressional earmarks and a list of "low-priority programs" in the budget, Mr. Hansen said. Earmarks typically pay for projects and programs in lawmakers' home districts, and circumvent federal rules governing competitive grants and need-based programs. The Education Department's budget contains about $440 million in such earmarks. ("Spending Plan for 2002 Laden With 'Earmarks'," Jan. 30, 2002.)

But education lobbyists suggest that lawmakers will be extremely reluctant to disrupt the delicate balance in the fiscal 2002 spending bill. After all, earmarks are prized trophies for many lawmakers, and one member's low priority is another's favorite program.

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 21, Issue 21, Page 22

Published in Print: February 6, 2002, as Federal File

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