Putting Education Reform To The Test

Explaining How Democrats Want To Make College Financial Aid An Election Issue

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Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (left) says he supports Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's (right) budget. Expect Democrats to make cuts to college financial aid an issue.

You know Democrats and their allies plan to use  cuts to Medicare included in the U.S. House budget against presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and any other member of the GOP running for office this fall.

At a press conference in Tampa Thursday, Democrats ran out another line of attack on what the House budget would cut — college aid.

U.S. Rep Kathy Castor, a Democrat, and Hillsborough Community College president Ken Atwater raised the alarm about $170 billion in cuts to the federal Pell Grant program within the House budget.

HCC runs on outside financial aid, Atwater noted, with more than 18,000 students receiving some tuition assistance. The average Pell Grant at HCC is $3,200 a year. Florida residents receive the third-most Pell Grants of any state — $1.93 billion during the 2009-2010 school year, according to U.S. Department of Education Data.

Tampa is a college town, Castor said, and those cuts will mean fewer people can afford higher education and the reduction in federal aid could hurt the region economy.

“This is a community that relies on investments in education, in medical research in transportation and infrastructure,” Castor said. “Those are the keys to economic recovery.”

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan — the Wisconsin Republican who wrote the House budget — notes that Pell Grants cost more than a country facing a $15 trillion debt can afford. His plan would reduce the maximum income of Pell recipients to $23,000 a year from $33,000 a year.

The budget would also set a maximum grant of $5,550 — about one-third the average total yearly cost of college.

“My concern is costs — new, unfunded liabilities on the federal government’s books — that’s going to make taxes higher, borrowing higher and give our children and grandchildren a even higher mountain of debt and taxes,” Ryan told Reason Magazine.

Pell Grants have been one of the main political footballs during Congressional debt fights in the past year.

Castor expects them to remain so, and that financial aid could be a decisive issue in the 2012 campaign. Castor argued Pell Grants could be funded by eliminating tax breaks carved out of the federal budget.

The House budget is expected to make little progress in the Democratic-controlled Senate.


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