CAP & ERN Team Up

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

October 26, 2017


by Michael Dannenberg

The Center for American Progress (CAP) and Education Reform Now (ERN) have teamed up on a take down of the Trump-DeVos-Congressional Republican education budget plan.

The main points are there’s a not-so-stealth agenda to wind down federal support for public education via proposed direct cuts to federal education programs, cuts to social safety net programs that states will have to backfill likely by taking from state support for public education, and undermining of public revenue for education via massive tax cuts that benefit the wealthy (a.k.a. the strategy arch-conservatives call “starving the beast”).

But the inside baseball political takeaways are that CAP and the think tank sister organization to Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) are: (1) working together in opposition to the Trump-DeVos agenda, and (2) agree that Congressional appropriators –Republicans and Democrats – are wrongly raiding the Pell college aid reserve fund to finance “other priorities” outside of education.

The organizations point out that Congressional appropriators are essentially shifting $2 billion in college aid funds to, well, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), at a time when millions are struggling to pay for college. They write instead:

“Every penny carefully accumulated in the Pell Grant reserve should go toward increasing college access, affordability, and success.”

The problem is that NIH has a stronger lobby, and most education groups are afraid of criticizing Democratic as well as Republican appropriators.

But criticize the Pell Grant program raid they should. Set aside that taking away summer financial aid and graduate loan subsidies from millions of students created the Pell Grant reserve, and that now those funds are going to non-education items.

Inevitably, the Pell Grant program will face a funding shortfall. It regularly occurs because when the economy turns down, adults surge back to school and those of traditional age are more likely to choose to attend than risk unemployment.

The Pell Grant program is unique in that it basically has a balanced budget amendment attached to it.  The so-called Pell budget scoring rule requires Congress to fund program shortfalls within the year, cut grants, or cut other domestic programs – including education programs – absent some emergency infusion of aid over and above the regular budget caps for all discretionary spending.  Conservative Republicans have long opposed that last program pain-free option.

In other words, the Trump-DeVos led, Congressional appropriator countenanced raid on the Pell Grant reserve is setting up the program to act like a hatchet for conservative Republicans to use against other education spending in the future.

They’ve done it in the past. You can bet they’ll seek to do it again in the future.

Why is it we always play checkers when the other side is playing chess?