- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

A bill expected to be voted on today in Congress may be the remedy for colleges damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but issues continue to crop up for lawmakers trying to ensure that displaced students can continue their education at new institutions.

Hardest hit by the storm were three historically black colleges — Dillard, Xavier in New Orleans and Southern in Baton Rouge — as well as Tulane and Loyola universities, all closed at least until next spring. A bill authored by Rep. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Republican, will help pay for rebuilding and to house displaced students at other universities.

“This is just one in a series of bills Congress is looking to pass to help students,” said Chris Paolino, spokesman for Mr. Jindal.

The bill would allow Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to waive the requirement that participating universities match federal funds for programs and construction of new facilities.

The Natural Disaster Student Aid Fairness Act is a welcomed helping hand, said Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).

“Congressman Jindal has been very interested in this and hopefully his legislation will get support and help make this less of an issue,” Mr. Lomax said.

Another concern is how other universities will be able to handle the displaced students transferring to other schools this semester and in the case of Dillard, a school completely ravaged by the storm, far into the future.

Mr. Lomax said UNCF has raised $1.8 million partly to help rebuild and to offer $1,000 grants to students attending school elsewhere.

Congress and the Department of Education are currently working to ensure that students displaced by the storm are not hampered by increased costs for tuition and room and board.

Federal guidelines for college financial aid stipulate that if a student transfers within a semester their aid cannot be used to attend another school until the new semester begins.

But the education department has granted institutions the right to be flexible in the case of students displaced by Katrina, allowing financial aid officers to get reallocation of grants.

Mr. Jindal’s bill would allow any “institution of higher education that has accepted for enrollment any affected students” a waiver for federal matching funds after considering the school’s student population and existing resources.

However, some students are attending schools where the tuition is higher that those affected by the hurricane. “The issue is, even if the student does get his Pell grant and loan reallocated [to another school] that will generally cover only 20 percent of the cost for the school,” Mr. Lomax said.

“It will be very hard for the students who have already been devastated and their parents who may have lost everything to cover the costs,” the UNCF president said.

Alexa Marrero, spokeswoman for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said the Jindal bill has the support of the education committee’s chairman, Rep. John A. Boehner, Indiana Republican, and is expected to pass.

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