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Paul Ryan’s New Budget Includes Freezing Pell Grants

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Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) presented his 2014 budget framework, entitled “Path to Prosperity.” One of the most controversial proposals in his budget plan is one that should worry current and potential college students everywhere: The freezing of the Federal Pell Grant at their current level. For at least the next 10 years, the grant would allow no more than $5,645 per student, despite the fact that college tuition continues to rise.

Randi Weingarten, who is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, has no problem voicing her opinion of Ryan’s plan to freeze the Pell Grant, deeming it “as unoriginal as it is awful,” as well as “unsound, unrealistic and out-of-touch with the needs of the American people.”

Mary Kusler, the head of the National Education Association’s government affairs, disapproved as well, citing this as yet another example of government attempts to cut educational funds, beyond the cuts put in place by the sequester.

Currently, the Pell Grant provides financial assistance to over nine million students from low-income backgrounds. Mandatory funding provides about $800 for each grant. Under Ryan’s new plan, these grants would be completely discretionary.

If the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, passed in 2010, continued to be followed, Pell Grants would increase next year from their current rate to $5,730, adjusting to college tuition increases. According to a recent report, tuition has increased 4.8 percent at most public universities since the last Pell Grant limit was set.

Ryan has linked the rising cost of college tuition to the Pell Grants themselves, but the experts say this is incorrect. New American Foundation higher education expert Amy Laitinen says Ryan is trying to “create the story that Pell Grants are responsible for tuition increases,” and says that it simply is not true.

Ryan’s budget narrative, overall, is essentially rehashing the same budget suggestions he made in 2013. It remains very vague about educational policy in the K-12 systems, mentioning a need for “reorganization and streamlining” but giving no details. Budget expert Jason Delisle has written budget documents before and says that leaving out details is a way to take advantage of limitations. Now that the budget framework has been released, an official budget resolution will follow, but Delisle is unhopeful that it will provide any more details.

The Democratic Senate is unlikely to pass Ryan’s budget, but it does signal what Ryan hopes to accomplish, legislatively.

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