Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Congress acts on appropriations

There was much activity in Washington over the weekend. Congress was working hard crafting a compromise bill to hold to the President's overall budget. A $517 billion appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008 was released late Sunday night and combines the remaining 11 appropriations bills that were not finished into one large omnibus appropriations bill.

Under the compromise bill, the Perkins Loans and LEAP (Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership) would get roughly $1.1 million less than the FY2007 spending level, and spending on TRIO and Gear Up programs, which prepare low-income students for college, would be frozen at FY2007 levels.

Spending on the Pell Grant program would be cut by $69 million from the maximum Pell Grant amount of $4,310 to $4,241. However the actual award would rise to $4,731 once funds from the budget reconciliation bill enacted in September are included. The budget reconciliation bill provided enough money for a $490 increase to the maximum award contained in the new spending bill for 2008. The increase is cautioned with the fact that it might not be long-term. Many higher education advocates are concerned about what might happen in five years, when the mandatory money runs out.

Many folks have been wondering what would happen with the earmarks in the spending bills given the latest sentiment over the last couple years about members of Congress directing funding back to specific projects/programs in their districts. However, earmarks were largely contained in the omnibus bill and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system made it into the bill for six of the system’s 12 earmark requests. Here are the six earmarks that made it into the bill;

1. Baccalaureate Nursing Program - Bemidji State University - $243,000 (Labor-HHS-Education)
2. Engineering Technology - Bemidji State University - $341,000 (Labor-HHS-Education)
3. Minnesota Center for Renewable Energy - Minnesota State University, Mankato and Minnesota West Community and Technical College - $500,000 (Energy-Water)
4. Minnesota National Child Protection Training Center - Winona State University - $775,000 (Commerce-Justice-Science)
5. Veterans Re-entry Education Program - $1,119,000 (Labor-HHS-Education)
6. Workplace Diversity Needs in Urban Nursing - Metropolitan State University - $487,000 (Labor-HHS-Education)

Other provisions in the bill include $2 million for two new programs to help colleges train more graduates in math, science, and foreign languages to become schoolteachers. This falls far short of the $276 million that Congress authorized for those programs this summer in the America Competes Act. In addition, the bill would expand federal support for training health-care workers. The budget for nursing education would increase by 4.3 percent, to $156 million.

The National Science Foundation would receive $6.07 billion in FY2008, an increase of only 2.5 percent over last year's budget, or less than the projected rate of inflation.

The bill also contains a provision that would prohibit the Department of Education from issuing regulations on accreditation until after Congress passes a bill to renew the Higher Education Act. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who is hoping to introduce new measures of "student-learning outcomes" into accreditation, has agreed not to act until a reauthorization bill is enacted.

The House began debate yesterday evening and the Senate is expected to take it up shortly. The bill is expected to pass both the House and Senate. It remains to be seen whether the President will veto the bill. We will continue to keep you updated. Stay tuned.

No comments: