House Budget Stirs Opposition Over Higher Education Cuts

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by Charles Dervarics

Legislation approved by the House of Representatives would cut funding for minority-serving colleges and universities by $250 million this year while reducing the maximum Pell Grant by more than $800 for the neediest students.

Prior to its passage of an emergency, two-week funding bill on Tuesday, the Republican-led House voted to chop government spending by $61 billion this year, including education cuts of at least $5 billion. Senate Democrats oppose the measure and President Obama has indicated he likely would veto such a plan. However, lawmakers view the GOP bill, H.R. 1, as a critical negotiating stance for Republican leaders as Congress seeks to avert a government shutdown this weekend.

Representatives of minority-serving colleges and universities say the cuts are potentially devastating.

“These proposed cuts represent not only a refusal to invest in thousands of deserving students, but a refusal to invest in the future of our economy,” said Dr. Michael Lomax, United Negro College Fund president and chief executive officer.

Support for historically Black colleges would drop by $85 million under the bill, while predominantly Black colleges would lose $11 million.

“We recognize the need to cut the deficit, but this disinvestment in our most precious resource, our next generation, is short-sighted,” said Lezli Baskerville, president and chief executive officer of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.

If enacted into law, H.R. 1 would reduce support for Hispanic-serving institutions by $100 million, while tribal colleges would lose $30 million and Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian institutions would see a decline by $15 million. As a result, the total loss for MSIs would approach $250 million.

Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, said the plan could harm future U.S. competitiveness, particularly if it results in fewer students entering STEM fields.

The higher education sector has mobilized against the cuts, which also would reduce Pell Grant spending by $5.6 billion. As a result, the maximum grant would decline from $5,550 to $4,705.

Other potential cuts in the bill include $694 million for the Title 1 K-12 education program, $557 million for education of students with disabilities, $25 million for TRIO programs and $20 million for GEAR UP college awareness programs. In addition, funding for community colleges for the $103 million tech-prep program would end.

Congressional Black Caucus members noted that the cuts in the GOP bill would fall disproportionately on African-Americans and people of color.

The plan “calls for deep spending cuts that would make preschool education less accessible for children, college education less affordable for low-income students, take cops off the beat and prevent many families from owning a home,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a CBC member.

But Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the new chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, defended efforts to reduce spending. “Budgeting is about making touch choices,” he said. “Congress has a responsibility to outline a budget the country can afford that sets priorities to live within those means. Too often in recent years Congress failed in this basic duty.”

While the Senate has yet to act on H.R. 1, GOP lawmakers have focused on deficit reduction in any short-term extension of government spending past March 4. Without a final 2011 budget agreement or a short-term spending bill approved by the Senate this Friday, the federal government would face a shutdown of many core services.

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