New language added to a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, approved by the House last month, would make sure that the states and not the secretary of education would decide who was eligible for new federal scholarships called Academic Competitiveness Grants.
Congress established the grants under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which President Bush signed in February. The legislation trimmed $40 billion in mandatory spending over the next five years, but also provides for extra scholarship money, including $750 per year for college freshmen and $1,300 for some sophomores, for Pell Grant-eligible students who take “rigorous” courses in high school.
But the measure did not specify which classes would meet that requirement. Some critics worried that the program could inadvertently give the federal government more say over high school curricula, which are supposed to be the purview of states and districts. The law says a rigorous high school curricula is one “recognized as such by the secretary,” which prompted the concerns about federal encroachment. (“Congress OKs Aid Based on ‘Rigorous’ H.S. Curricula,” Feb. 8, 2006.)
To clear up the issue, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, added a provision to the House version of the HEA renewal stating that the grants would go to students who had taken courses “beyond the basic graduation requirements” as determined by a “designated state official.”
Steve Forde, a spokesman for Rep. McKeon, said the new language was consistent with Congress’ intent when it created the scholarship program. He said in an e-mail that lawmakers “intended for states and school officials to have sole ability to define rigorous curricula, not the federal government.”
The Senate version of the HEA legislation, which has not yet been considered by the full chamber, does not contain the provision.
Rep. McKeon’s language would also ensure that home schoolers and private school students would have access to the grants by allowing a “designated school official” to decide whether they had taken a rigorous curriculum.
“Students who use these alternative options should not be punished for doing so by being excluded from the grant program,” Mr. Forde said.
A version of this article appeared in the May 03, 2006 edition of Education Week