- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The popular federal Pell Grant tuition program, vastly expanded under President Obama, would take a big hit under the far-reaching fiscal 2012 Republican budget blueprint released Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

The program, which gives grants to low-income students to help them afford college, has been “recklessly expanded” by Democrats in recent years, pushing it to the brink of bankruptcy and jeopardizing the more than nine million students who rely on the grants each year, according to the report prepared by the House committee staff.

The proposal calls for reducing Pell Grant spending to “pre-stimulus levels,” cutting the annual federal allocation by about half. In 2008, the federal government appropriated $16.3 billion to Pell Grants, according to the Department of Education. The Obama administration wants $41.2 billion for the program in its 2012 budget.

Republicans argue that cutting Pell Grant spending would “curb tuition inflation and make sure aid is targeted to the truly needy,” citing the fact that the explosion in grant funding has been matched by tuition hikes at colleges and universities. Accepting that the program is on an unsustainable path and must be changed, Mr. Obama’s own 2012 budget included some trims to the program, but fell far short of the GOP alternative.

President Obama on Tuesday told reporters at the White House that his proposal to overhaul the Pell Grant program is an example of the Democrats’ willingness to “cut programs that we care deeply about.”

Mr. Obama’s 2012 budget would eliminate the “two Pells” provision, which allows students who attend classes year-round to get two grants in a calendar year.

“We’re going to have to cut that out. It’s a little too expensive,” he said. “We want to make sure that we preserve the levels for those young people … [who] are going to school during the year.”

The Republicans’ plan does specifically address cutting the $5,550 maximum grant a student can receive. Mr Obama’s plan calls for keeping that maximum award in place.

The GOP budget also calls for consolidation of “overlapping” job-training programs into “more accountable career scholarships,” calling such a system “the first rung on the ladder out of poverty.” Republicans also advocate restoring funding for the District’s school voucher program and using it as a model for the rest of the nation.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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