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Hundreds of House Democrats on Wednesday blasted billions of dollars in proposed cuts to federal programs that fund teacher preparation and provide tuition assistance to low-income students, as appropriators seek to finalize a spending plan for the Department of Education.

In two separate letters sent to the House Committee on Appropriations, Democratic lawmakers outlined concerns over a proposed $2 billion cut that would eliminate part of Title II – which provides school districts with funding for teacher development and class-size reductions – and a proposed $3.3 billion cut to the Pell Grant program.

The Pell Grant program, a quasi-entitlement program, faced a funding shortfall in the scope of billions of dollars in the years following the Great Recession, when more people qualified for the benefit and many people who were out of work chose to pursue a degree. As the economy became stronger and the number of people enrolled in higher education programs decreased, the program grew a funding reserve.

But Democrats, in their letter, argued that appropriators should not “balance other funding needs on the backs of low-income college students.”

“This proposed cut imperils the affordability of college for low-income students both now and in the future,” some 120 Democrats wrote, underscoring that the cut threatens lawmakers' ability to increase the minimum Pell Grant award amount when they begin in earnest to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

 

“Without these reserve funds,” they wrote, “the ability to raise the maximum Pell Grant award, which currently covers less than a third of the cost of attendance at a four-year public college, or enact other improvements to college affordability will be nearly impossible.”

More than 100 Democrats in the chamber similarly slammed proposed cuts for teacher preparation, which they said threatens states’ ability to follow through with the implementation of the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“The elimination of Title II-A will result not only in thousands of layoffs and larger class sizes across the country, but also stifle innovation in the delivery of teacher professional development and improved classroom instruction," they wrote.

Notably, the proposed budget from GOP appropriators would slash funding for the Department of Education by $2.4 billion – significantly less than the $9.2 billion the Trump administration proposed.

Also Wednesday, hundreds of teachers rallied outside the Capitol Building to protest the same funding cuts.

They were joined by labor union leaders and congressional lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.; and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

AUTHOR: Lauren Camera 

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