Senate Bill to Fund Bush Community College Plan
Seven months after President Bush proposed a new $250 million initiative for job training at community colleges, a Senate panel is stepping forward to try to fund it.The Senate committee responsible for education spending has included funds for the initiative in its 2005 budget bill, approved in mid-September. While the full Senate still must approve the measure, the action by the Appropriations Committee is a major victory for sponsors. During the summer, the House of Representatives proposed only a $50 million downpayment on the plan.Unveiled with much fanfare earlier this year, the Community Based Job Training Grants Initiative would support partnerships among community colleges, businesses and work-force investment boards to expand training programs and prepare individuals for high-quality, high-wage jobs.Despite generating support, the plan was met warily by some educators, who noted that the White House — while proposing $250 million for the plan — also proposed a $300 million cut in Carl Perkins Act funding, which is spread across K-12 and higher education. The Perkins Act funds career and technical education.But Congress so far has rejected Perkins cutbacks and now looks to provide at least a sizeable investment in the new initiative. The House and Senate eventually will have to settle on one amount between $50 million and $250 million.After the lack of progress during spring and summer, community college leaders expressed support for the Senate’s latest move. “It’s a very positive sign,” said Dr. Mark D. Milliron, a senior League fellow at the League for Innovation in the Community College and executive director of Education Practice at the SAS Institute. He said the increased attention from President Bush and Congress is a sign that two-year institutions have a valuable role to play in bringing sectors of education to the same table.“Community colleges are being seen more by Congress and federal agencies as a learning nexus to bring together K-12, higher education and even corporate training,” he said.Unlike other federal education programs, Bush’s initiative would be housed at the U.S. Department of Labor instead of at the U.S. Department of Education. Milliron said the Labor Department has a strong track record with two-year institutions and works closely with federal education officials.“There is more collaboration between Education and Labor now than at any time we’ve been working with them,” he said — a period that stretches back 15 years.He said the program most likely would fund demonstration and pilot programs, or centers of excellence to demonstrate ways to educate workers for high-growth, high-wage jobs. “The Department of Labor has long valued community colleges,” he added. Labor also would juggle several revenue streams to provide the community college funding, at least if the Senate bill becomes law. Senators would allocate half of the funding, $125 million, to community colleges through National Emergency Grants under the Workforce Investment Act.Elsewhere, the 2005 budget bill has no increase in the maximum Pell Grant for needy students. The Senate would keep the current maximum at $4,050; however, it would add an extra $823 million to the program to meet heavy demand.The Senate spending bill also would provide level funding of $1.19 billion for Perkins Act state grants next year. Tech-prep education would continue as a separate line item, funded at the same $106 million the program received this year.The measure holds a $29 million increase for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants next year, for a total of $799.8 million. But work-study would remain unchanged at $998 million.Another provision would fund the strengthening institutions program at $85 million, up $4 million from current funding. Community colleges are among recipients of these grants, which go to colleges with a large percentage of financially needy students. It’s not clear when the full Senate will take up the spending bill. The government’s new fiscal year began Oct. 1, which means that federal education programs will have to operate with temporary spending until Congress finishes the 2005 budget bills.
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