Senate Panel Sets Education Funding Levels, Rejects President’s Proposed Cuts to Higher Ed

On September 7, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up the fiscal year (FY) 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS) Appropriations bill and passed it. The bill, which was drafted along bipartisan lines for the second year in a row, contains nearly $800 million in cuts to total discretionary spending. The markup was brief, as a manager’s amendment was introduced early in the proceeding, and education-related amendments were not offered. Chair Roy Blunt (R–MO) noted that the bill continues funding for core activities and prioritizes funding for programs that enhance the lives of Americans. He highlighted a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health for the third year in a row and a prioritization to address the opioid crisis. Subcommittee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D–WA) said the bill is the result of hard work and negotiations under “very tough conditions” and lamented the low allocation level for LHHS and its message about congressional priorities.

The bill preserves many education programs slated for elimination by President Trump such as the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants program, which would be funded at approximately $733 million—the same amount as FY 2017. The measure also ignores Trump’s proposed deep cuts to student financial aid. For example, it would fund Federal Work Study at nearly $990 million—funding it at the FY 2017 level. The GEAR UP program (which provides grants to states for services to low-income students in middle and high schools) also would be level funded at nearly $340 million. The TRIO programs (which provide services for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and target the middle school to postbaccalaureate period) would receive a $3 million bump to $953 million, with additional funding intended to resolve some technical issues with last year’s applications. Maximum awards for Pell Grants would be increased by $100 in the Senate proposal, bringing the new maximum total award to $6020. Year-round Pell also would be preserved, providing an estimated 90,000 college students with an additional award of more than $1600 to attend school year-round. Although the bipartisan bill is a rejection of the president’s draconian budget cuts, both Democrats and Republicans acknowledged that they would have provided more funding if their allocation was not so austere. Murray was particularly vocal on this point, advocating for a new bipartisan budget deal so that appropriators could provide more funding for critical programs.

The full Senate will now consider this bill. To listen to the markup in its entirety and find supporting documents, visit the Senate Committee on Appropriations webpage.



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