House committee passes funding bill

Members of the House Appropriations Committee prepare to mark up the FY 2018 spending bill for programs such as education, job training and more.

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed along party lines a broad-ranging fiscal year 2018 funding bill that mirrors what its education and labor panel passed last week.

The big cuts for programs affecting community colleges would include slashing $3.3 billion from the Pell Grant surplus, $86 million from job training programs and $95 million from the apprenticeship program.

Democrats proposed several amendments to restore funding to FY 2017 levels for programs such as job training and apprenticeships, and to use the Pell surplus to increase the maximum Pell award. The amendments were either defeated on party-lines votes or withdrawn after Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), chair of the House education and labor appropriations subcommittee, said he would try to work with Democrats on restoring some funding, if possible.

Cole, who was calm and cordial as usual, said that, if lawmakers provide a budget agreement that would free up some more money for his subcommittee, he would sit down with Democrats to see where they could restore some funding.

“We don’t oppose these programs…We have an allocation issue here,” Cole said in regards to Democrats’ amendments to restore funding to several education programs. “We’d like to see them restored to where they once were.”

Discussions touched on the broad array of programs covered by the bill — from disease prevention and planned parenthood, to gun violence and K-12 teacher training. Career and technical education (CTE), job training and apprenticeship programs were a key topic, with members from both parties noting the importance of the programs in workforce and economic development.

What’s ahead

The bill may face a bigger challenge before the full House, as several Republicans don’t think the funding cuts go far enough. The bill is also likely to be rolled into an omnibus appropriations package.

The Senate has yet to move on its funding bills.

Earlier this week, the House Budget Committee released a FY 2018 budget that touted CTE programs for preparing workers for jobs that require a postsecondary education but not necessarily a baccalaureate. But the blueprint noted that federally funding job training programs and the Pell Grant program need changes. While job training programs need to be streamlined to reduce administrative costs and consolidate duplicative programs, Pell is on “shaky financial ground,” the report said, citing the increased discretionary costs of the program over the past decade and the recent reinstatement of the year-round Pell program.

“Future reforms should ensure Pell Grants go to students with the most need, that students complete school in a timely manner, and that this program is financially sustainable and available for future students,” the report said.

Education advocates and some think tanks, such as the Center for American Progress, took note of the phrasing, speculating that it will likely translate to eligibility restrictions or other restrictions that will make it harder for students to get the grants. Curbing Pell would especially hurt low- and middle-income minority students, CAP said in an analysis of the House budget report.

“In 2012, 61 percent of black students and 50 percent of Latino students relied on Pell Grants to attend college compared with 38 percent of white students,” it said.

CAP also criticized the House budget’s focus on Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) job training programs, noting that Congress revamped the programs three years ago when it reauthorized WIOA.

“WIOA already eliminated 15 programs and elevated best practices such as apprenticeship programs, industry-led sector partnerships, and career pathways,” CAP said.

Watch Wednesday’s House Appropriations Committee markup, Part 1

House Appropriations Committee markup, Part 2

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