CTE, Pell spared during contentious approps hearing

Rep. Rosa Delauro (D-Connecticut), chair of the House education appropriations subcommittee, argues during a hearing Thursday that the Trump administration wants to privatize public education. (Images: Screenshots from the hearing online)

In a tension-filled House appropriations hearing Thursday about the president’s proposed 2021 budget for education, there was no political bickering around proposed funding increases for career and technical education (CTE) and expanding eligibility for Pell grants.

Political bickering overshadowed a good part of the House education appropriations hearing, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle asked U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about the Trump administration’s proposal to boost funding for career and technical education by about $900 million and its plan to extend Pell Grant eligibility to qualifying inmates and for certain high-quality short-term programs.

In queries from both Democrats and Republicans about the so-called Second Chance Pell, a pilot program that allowed certain inmates to use the grants to pay for college classes, DeVos said many of the sites — including one involving Tulsa Community College, which she visited — are yielding results.

“There’s so much promise with this,” she said, adding that Congress would have to authorize approval to make the program permanent.

Ranking member Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) lauded the proposal. Inmates are “part of our population that gets neglected and left behind,” he said.

For more than two decades, qualifying inmates were allowed to use Pell grants for postsecondary education. But in the early 1990s, amendments to the Higher Education Act banned prisoners from receiving the grants. The American Association of Community Colleges and other higher education, workforce and human services organizations support reinstating their eligibility.

Republicans also questioned DeVos about the department’s recent granting of waivers to 190 colleges and universities — including more than 70 public two-year colleges — from certain rules pertaining to the Federal Work-Study program. She said the waivers would, in part, allow students to have an “apprenticeship-like experience” by working in jobs that are more closely aligned with their career interests, “instead of working in a college cafeteria.”

Targeting TRIO, again

One area where some Republicans on the subcommittee split from the administration on its budget was proposed changes to the TRIO and GEAR UP programs. The budget renews last year’s pitch for a TRIO block grant that would transition TRIO from competitive grants to state formula grants.

As he did last year, Cole said that he opposes such changes, noting that the programs have a strong record of helping to prepare at-risk students for college. DeVos argued that grants under the current TRIO program go mainly to the same schools each year, and the department wants to open opportunities for other institutions.

“That would tell me we should put more money in TRIO,” Cole replied.

Ranking member Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) supports several of the administration’s budget ideas, but he again opposes changes to TRIO.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.