House Panel Endorses Pell Grant Increase and Level Funds for Other Programs

July 18, 2012

A U.S. House of Representatives panel on Wednesday approved a bill that would cut $1.1-billion out of the Education Department's budget in the 2013 fiscal year but would largely preserve funds for higher-education programs.

Under the bill, which was approved by an Appropriations subcommittee on an almost party-line vote of 8-to-6, campus-based aid programs, such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and Federal Work-Study, would receive the same funds they are receiving in the current fiscal year. The maximum Pell Grant would increase by $85, to $5,635, starting in the 2013-14 academic year, a proposal that reflects a shift among some House Republicans, who had previously sought to reduce the Pell program.

Funds for the National Institutes of Health would remain the same as in the 2012 fiscal year.

The bill also contains a provision that would prevent the Education Department from enforcing its gainful-employment and program-integrity regulations. Two courts have already struck down several aspects of those key rules. Most recently, a federal judge in June said that the department's standards for assessing gainful employment were too arbitrary and could not be enforced, but the judge upheld the department's authority to issue the rules.

The department has not yet indicated whether it intends to draft new gainful-employment regulations, but the House bill would also prevent it from doing so. The bill specifically prohibits the department from creating any regulations relating to the gainful-employment requirement under the Higher Education Act. That law requires that career-education programs at all institutions "prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation" in order to receive federal aid.

The education budget is part of a larger appropriations bill that also includes health care, which made the vote contentious on Wednesday. Republicans sought to use the measure to defund President Obama's health-care-overhaul law, and they included several anti-abortion provisions. The bill would also cut all funds to Planned Parenthood and reduce support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps finance NPR and PBS.

Democrats on the subcommittee attacked the bill as partisan and said it would be detrimental to women and families. They were joined by one Republican, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, in opposing the bill.

The 2013 fiscal year begins on October 1, but Congress is unlikely to pass a budget until after the November elections. The House education budget and its Senate counterpart, which was approved last month, are likely to serve as a framework.

The two chambers' bills are similar on higher-education programs. Both bills would allow the Pell Grant increase and keep other aid programs roughly the same as in previous years.

The Senate version, however, would also partially restore federal student-aid eligibility to students without a high-school diploma or the equivalent. In addition, the Senate bill would prevent Pell Grants from covering the living expenses of students enrolled in distance-learning programs.

The House bill next moves to consideration by the full Appropriations Committee, but that session has not yet been scheduled.