- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

The House yesterday passed a bill that Republicans say will benefit all college students while Democrats say it does not go far enough to help students and their families afford higher education.

Representatives approved the measure on a 221-199 vote almost entirely along party lines. There were 14 Democrats who sided with the chamber’s majority to pass the measure, called the College Access and Opportunity Act. Eighteen Republicans and one independent voted with the Democrats in protest.

The bill increases the Pell Grant program for poor students from $5,800 to $6,000 and simplifies the process for seeking financial aid. It also requires schools to report their tuition costs to the Department of Education so the figures can be posted on a Web site for students and parents to review when choosing colleges.

The measure authorizes more funding for educational programs serving minorities and requires schools make public their policies regarding transfer of credits. It also puts pressure on schools to keep tuition increases to a reasonable level.

Republicans applauded the passage of the bill, which renewed the Higher Education Act governing schools that receive federal money. It was last updated in 1998.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican who authored the bill, accused Democrats of “playing politics with the education of American children.”

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, who took over for Mr. Boehner as chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee earlier this year, agreed. He said Democrats were intimately involved in the bill’s crafting over the last three years and were supportive of it until recently.

“Education should not be a partisan issue,” said Mr. Mc-Keon, California Republican.

Democrats, led by California Rep. George Miller, the ranking minority party member on the education committee, fought unsuccessfully for an amendment that would cut the interest rate on student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent, among other changes. It was defeated 220-200.

Mr. Miller said the $200 increase in the main bill was “interesting rhetoric,” but said the Republicans have not included funds in the budget for the increase.

“It doesn’t have any money for these low-income students to help cover the cost of their education,” he said.

Mr. Miller criticized the $12.5 billion cut to financial aid programs that House Republicans approved earlier this year, comments echoed by his colleagues.

“I want our children and grandchildren to be able to pay for college,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat.

Republicans balked at Democrats’ claims, and reminded lawmakers that education received cuts when the minority party was in power.

“Don’t believe the hype,” said Rep. Ric Keller, Florida Republican. “Not one student will receive less financial aid.”

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