Congressional Spending Plans Cut Higher Ed Funding to Balance Budget

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate Budget Committees this week released their spending proposals for the 2016 fiscal year.

House Republicans' plan, unveiled on Tuesday, would slow spending on Pell Grants and reevaluate funding for higher education as part of an effort to balance the federal budget, reported The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The spending measure would balance in eight years and cut overall funding by $5.5 trillion over the next decade. The budget would keep spending ceilings under a 2011 budget deal in place, but would provide $90 billion in additional war funding – more than the $51 billion proposed by President Obama, The Hill reported.

The House blueprint would freeze the maximum Pell Grant at the current $5,775 for 10 years and roll back some recent expansions of the program. According to the budget, the changes in the Pell program would make it "permanently sustainable, so that it is able to serve students today and in the future."

On Wednesday, House Republican leaders revealed that their budget plan would also abolish the in-school interest subsidy on Stafford loans, reverse a recent expansion of income-based repayment, and end public-sector loan forgiveness, according to the Chronicle. While the federal student loan program cuts do not appear in the document released on Tuesday, a House Budget Committee aide confirmed during a markup session on Wednesday that the changes were assumed in the measure. The three provisions would save taxpayers more than $61 billion over 10 years, according to budget estimates, but would also make student loans more expensive for borrowers.

Meanwhile, the Senate dropped its proposed 2016 budget blueprint on Wednesday. The austere spending measure differs greatly from the House plan in that it would maintain strict caps on military spending and cut trillions of dollars from health care and welfare. The differences could make it difficult for Republicans in the two chambers to agree to a final House-Senate compromise budget.

Over all, though, the Senate version hews closely to the budgetary intent of the House proposal, The New York Times reported. The budget plan would balance in 10 years and cut spending by $5.1 trillion over the next decade. It would set non-defense discretionary spending at $493 billion for 2016 and slash $90 billion from the Pell grant program over 10 years.

Although the Senate blueprint would not explicitly freeze Pell Grants like the House bill, it would eliminate mandatory money for the program, subjecting it to the annual appropriations process. Advocates worry that a shift back to 100-percent discretionary funding would make Pell Grants vulnerable to budget cuts.

Student protesters disrupted a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday, decrying the proposed reductions in higher education spending, Inside Higher Ed reported. United States Capitol Police escorted the demonstrators from the hearing room as they chanted, "No cuts, no fees, education should be free."

Seven people were arrested, according to Maxwell Love, president of the United States Student Association, which organized the protest. "If Congressional Republicans are going to balance the budget on the backs of students, we think it necessitates action now," Love said.


Related Links

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Hill

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The New York Times

Inside Higher Ed