Budget Puts Schooling on Back Burner

President George W. Bush’s newly announced $2.77 trillion federal budget for 2007 offers little for higher education and either cuts or maintains the level of funding for several federal higher education programs.

The budget proposes that maximum Pell Grant levels be held at $4,050 for the fifth year in a row.

Other programs face a worse fate in the budget’s proposals. The Perkins Loan program, which provides low-cost loan programs for low-income students, are targeted for elimination, as are outreach programs such as TRIO, which has two branches slated for cuts.

Higher education advocates have branded the plan as a symbol of the administration’s skewed priorities.

“The president has been hypocritical in his stance on education,” United States Student Association Legislative Director Jasmine Harris said. “He states a concern for economic competitiveness in his State of the Union address, then puts these college programs on the back burner. It’s worrisome, considering where our country’s investment should be in education.”

Bush administration officials, however, contend that the cuts in the budget were necessary to provide money to more important programs.

“Federal dollars must be spent wisely or not at all,” the White House stated in a press release. “Funding … must be redirected toward programs that either have been proven to work or hold promise of achieving the administration’s goals most effectively.”

The budget calls for money to fund specific new programs in education.

The president’s Academic Competitiveness Grants program, a largely merit-based system that provides aid to low-income students, for example, received an $850 million allocation in the budget, a $60 million jump from the funding originally approved by Congress in its budget reconciliation.

In addition, the budget proposes $24 million for college collaborations with schools to enhance students’ education in certain foreign languages, such as Farsi and Arabic.

The funding is part of Bush’s National Security Language Initiative, which aims to improve national security and foreign relations by bolstering education in languages deemed critical to overseas efforts.

College lobbyists see the overall picture for students as grim, despite the new programs in the budget.

“The president is calling for a net cut in need-based student financial aid,” Becky Timmons, director of government relations for the American Council on Education, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “There’s just no way to sugarcoat it.”