GOP House budget calls for 10-year limit on size of Pell Grants

Other political fights may make student aid 'collateral damage'

GOP representatives on Tuesday announced a 2016 funding plan that limits the maximum Pell Grant award at its current level of $5,775 for the next decade, Inside Higher Ed reports.

The blueprint, led by Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia), chairman of the House budget committee, is part of a larger effort to slash domestic spending and balance the federal government's budget over the next 10 years.

The House is expected to vote on the measure by the end of this week.

The plan calls the White House's expansion of the Pell Grant unsustainable, but it does not detail specific alternatives. Instead, it proposes general statements of priorities, such as awarding the largest grants to those "who need the most help."

Higher ed under the new GOP-controlled Congress

Student financial aid advocates warn against limiting Pell Grants. "With higher education more important and harder to afford than ever, we need to do more, not less, to keep college within reach for all students," the Institute for College Access and Success said in a statement.

Other segments of the budget call for a $759 billion reduction over 10 years in pool funding for annual domestic programs—including research.

Reconciliation, an 'unpredictable monster'

The plan includes wording that allows for possible budget reconciliation. Under that process, the House and Senate committees would essentially make cuts in their own mandatory spending programs. The budget committees from both chambers would then combine the reductions to create a larger legislative piece.

While Republicans included this language to allow them to pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, it may result in changes to student aid programs as well. The House education committee, for example, might be required to slash $1 billion from its programs over the next 10 years.

Student aid programs may end up as "collateral damage" in these and other political conflicts, says Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, who calls reconciliation an "unpredictable monster."

Additionally, the process has interfered with reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, set to be renewed this year. Reconciliation's "major focus is producing savings, not good policy making," argues Draeger (Stratford, Inside Higher Ed, 3/18; Lederman, Inside Higher Ed, 10/19/2005).

The takeaway: House Republicans released a budget on Tuesday that calls for a freeze in the maximum size of Pell Grants awarded and opens education funding to cuts.

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