Holding the Line on Pell

Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter was on the defensive Tuesday during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing about funding for the Pell Grant Program, arguing that a House proposal to cut the maximum grant by $845 in its 2011 budget resolution would deter low-income students from going to college.

That cut would be the largest made to the Pell Grant since the 1970s. Kanter also had to answer tough questions from Democrats concerned about the administration’s own proposal (in its 2012 budget plan) to stop letting students who want to study year-round qualify for two Pell Grants in a single year.

The back and forth gave new insights into the Department of Education’s rationale for the cuts and revisions it proposed in President Obama’s budget. The department’s ultimate goal is to make up a $20 billion shortfall in Pell to keep the maximum grant at $5,500. The Pell has become ever more popular (and costly) over the last few years, increasing the number of student recipients from 6.2 million in 2008-9 to an estimated 9.4 million in 2011-12, a 52 percent increase.

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