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Education Funding Depends on Devil in the Details

November 13, 2015

Congress and the White House recently agreed to increase federal budget caps, relaxing spending limitations that had been impeding progress on the FY16 budget. While an additional $50 billion will be split evenly between defense spending and domestic programs, the devil remains in the details as to how the $25 billion for non-defense activities will be divided across the 11 different spending bills that fund the federal government. 

If Congress and the White House don't have an agreement by December 11 on a final FY16 spending plan, they will need to pass another temporary budget extension or again face the prospect of a government shutdown. Ultimately, it is expected that the 11 separate budget packages will be wrapped up into one large omnibus appropriations bill.

At stake are funding levels for federal student aid programs. Of the 11, it is the Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS)-Education bill that provides funds for student aid, as well as a wide array of other education, labor, and health-related agencies and programs. House and Senate lawmakers drafted respective versions of the bill before the caps were lifted, but few new details have emerged after negotiators garnered the ability to boost individual agencies and programs. 

The National Institutes of Health will likely see a considerable boost as there is extensive bipartisan support for the research agency. However, questions remain as to how the rest of the allocation will be distributed across labor, health, and education spending lines.

NACUBO, as a member of the Student Aid Alliance, this year called for sufficient funding to maintain the scheduled maximum Pell Grant award of $5,915, as well to restore proposed cuts to the Federal Work Study program, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and graduate education, and to maintain the increases in TRIO and GEAR UP.

The Labor-HHS-Education bill is annually one of the most controversial spending bills and is regularly targeted for related and unrelated policy riders. Negotiations have already become complicated as Republican lawmakers are exploring a number of politically divisive add-ons to the bill, including a proposal to cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood as well as other riders that could roll back some Obama administration labor policies.

Many others are also looking to the year-end omnibus spending bill as a vehicle for their legislative interests—including those continuing efforts to secure an extension for the now-expired Perkins Loans program. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is leading efforts to include a Perkins one-year extension as an amendment to the omnibus appropriations bill (while at the same time also seeking other legislative vehicles).


Those interested in contributing to advocacy efforts in support of the Perkins Loan program and federal student aid programs can:


Liz Clark
Senior Director, Federal Affairs