Washington Watch: A more-measured budget proposal

The Biden administration released a fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget on Monday that, while ambitious in some areas, is more measured than last year’s blueprint. The same can be said for the budget’s education and workforce training proposals, which range from flat funding to large increases. The budget includes many proposals that would greatly benefit community colleges and their students.

The administration’s budget proposal is typically released in early February, but the long delay in finalizing FY 22 appropriations held it up this year. Because of that delay, the budget was prepared before FY 22 appropriations were finished, so all the budget’s noted spending changes are based on FY 21 funding. As a result, many programmatic increases are, in fact, smaller than stated in the budget when compared to actual FY 22 numbers. In some cases, the administration’s proposal to level-fund or slightly increase a program compared to FY 21 would actually be a funding cut when compared to FY 22.

In a budget briefing on Monday afternoon, Education Department (ED) officials said that these were not meant as cuts, but rather a byproduct of the overlapping FY 22 and 23 budget processes. They said that they would provide “technical assistance” to Congress to deal with these discrepancies.

A plan for bipartisan support

The administration has proposed an increase of $15.3 billion (21%) over FY 21 for ED and $12.4 billion (17%) over FY 22. This substantial increase is nonetheless about half of the 41% increase the administration put forward last year. The department received an increase of a little more than 3% in the final FY 22 appropriations bill, so it seems that the administration has decided to temper its proposals to forge the compromises with Republicans that will be needed to achieve bipartisan funding legislation.

It should also be noted that several items included in the “Build Back Better” initiative, including America’s College Promise, were excluded from the Biden budget, but administration officials have made it clear that they still strongly support free community college.

What it means for community colleges

The budget signals continued strong support for community colleges and their students. It proposes increasing the Pell Grant maximum award by $500 (over FY 22) in discretionary funding and $1,275 in mandatory funds. The budget notes that this is part of a plan to double the Pell Grant maximum award by 2029. Last year’s budget indicated a general intent to double Pell, but it did not include a target year for getting it done.

Other key student aid programs, including the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Federal Work Study, would receive no increases over their FY 21 levels. The Pell Grant maximum is scheduled to increase by $400 to $6,895 for the award year starting July 1.

Of the Higher Education Act Title III programs, one of the most substantial increases was slated for the Title III-A Strengthening Institutions Program, a perennial priority for the American Association of Community Colleges. As was proposed in last year’s budget, the program would nearly double in size to $209 million. Despite that ambitious proposal, the program received a 1% increase in FY 22. The Title V Hispanic-Serving Institutions program would also get a large increase.

Other ED budget highlights include a robust increase for TRIO and $110 million for Retention and Completion grants within the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). The Child Care Access Means Parents in School program increases to $90 million (over $65 million in FY 22).

Some community college priorities did not fare as well, including Perkins Career and Technical Education state grants and the Adult Basic Education program, which were both provided with small increases over FY 21. The proposed amount for the Perkins state grants ($1.36 billion) is below the FY 22 level for that program, and the Adult Basic Education State Grants proposal ($700 million) is only slightly ahead of last year. However, the administration is also proposing a new $200 million initiative to connect high schools with postsecondary career education options, emphasizing community colleges.

Doubling SCCTG

At the Department of Labor (DOL), the major community college highlight is a proposal to spend $100 million on the Strengthening Community College Training Grants (SCCTG), which would double the size of the program. This is a significant increase in the administration’s support for the program and sets a positive tone as Congress begins the appropriations process.

The administration also proposed creating a new $100 million industry sector partnership program and several programs aimed at training for clean-energy jobs. Apprenticeship grants, which have fared well in recent years, also received a robust increase (to $303 million). Spending increases proposed for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act formula programs were relatively modest.

Congress will take the administration’s budget into account as it begins the FY 23 appropriations process, but final funding levels are liable to look much different.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
Jim Hermes is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.
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