Better than Trump’s budget, but….

U.S. Capitol (Photo: AACC)

A House appropriations panel on Thursday passed a spending bill for the next fiscal year that would trim several programs important to community colleges, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle indicated they’re open to tweaks.

The House subcommittee that oversees spending recommendations for a broad array of federal programs — from education to labor to health care — passed the bill on a 9-6 vote along party lines. The bill now heads to the full House Appropriations Committee for an expected markup next week. Subcommittee ranking minority member Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) said Democrats plan to offer amendments at that markup.

She said the bill has some “bright spots” in funding recommendations for the National Institutes of Health, special education and programs like TRIO and GEAR UP, but the increases are offset by proposals such as significantly cutting the Pell Grant surplus.

“This bill does nothing to make college more affordable,” DeLauro said.

Subcommittee chair Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) noted that there would be opportunities to consider changes.

“This is an initial allocation, the beginning of the congressional funding process,” he said. “I’m always willing to negotiate with our friends in the Senate and on the other side of the aisle.”

Big hit for Pell surplus

The bill would cut overall funding for the U.S. Education Department (ED) by $2.4 billion, which is about 3.5 percent from last year’s level. That cut grows to $4 billion when including a rescission from the Pell Grant surplus, noted the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

Funding for many ED programs is not yet available because specific appropriations levels are not usually released until the full appropriations committee markup.

Under the House bill, the maximum award for the Pell Grant would remain at $5,920. However, it would rescind $3.3 billion from the Pell Grant surplus, which totals $8.5 billion for fiscal year 2018. AACC noted that while this cut is slightly smaller than the $3.9 billion rescission proposed by President Donald Trump, it still would be a significant blow to the program.

“Ensuring that this mammoth rescission is not ultimately passed will be a focal point of AACC advocacy as the appropriations process unfolds,” according to the association.

Higher education advocates noted that dipping into the Pell surplus to cover budget gaps will hurt the program overall. They cited that the surplus was used to help cover the costs of the recently reinstated Year-Round Pell Grant in the current fiscal year.

The $3.3 billion cut equals the average Pell Grant award for nearly 900,000 students — more than the number of Pell Grant recipients attending college in Texas, Pennsylvania and Iowa combined, according to The Institute for College Access & Success.

“Moreover, the bill freezes Pell Grant award amounts for the first time in six years, which would, in real terms, decrease the value of the grant by at least $165, because the award will no longer keep up with inflation, let alone the faster-rising costs of college,” the group said in a statement.

A couple bright spots in the bill for community colleges: It would not cut funding for the Perkins Career and Technical Education and Adult Education programs, as the president proposed. It also would increase funding for TRIO by $60 million, to about $1 billion, and for GEAR UP by $10 million, to $350 million.

However, the bill has unspecified cuts of about $87 million to higher education programs.

On the job training side, the spending bill would cut $86 million from Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act adult, dislocated worker and youth programs. It also would nix $95 million from the apprenticeship program, which the administration recently touted for its successes in preparing skilled workers for good-paying, available jobs.

Watch the subcommittee markup of the
FY18 Labor, HHS and Education appropriations bill.

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