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President Signs Omnibus Spending Bill Boosting Funds for Student Aid, Research

March 23, 2018


​The House yesterday voted to approve a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill agreed to by congressional negotiators earlier this week, with the Senate following suit in the early hours this morning. After a brief period during which he took to Twitter​ and threatened to veto the measure, President Trump signed it into law this afternoon. 

The bill, which covers the remainder of FY 2018, increases overall spending for the Department of Education (ED) by $3.9 billion and is being widely characterized as a repudiation of President Trump’s priorities outlined in his budget request, which sought to cut the funding for the department by $3.6 billion. Overall, the research agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), also would see increases.

Among the provisions:

  • ​The bill boosts the maximum Pell Grant award by $175, to $6,095 for the 2018-19 academic year. 
  • The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program receives an additional $107 million, for a total of $840 million. 
  • The Federal Work-Study program receives an additional $140 million for a total of $1.13 billion. 
  • The TRIO programs receive an increase of $60 million, bringing total FY 2018 funding to $1 billion. The GEAR UP programs see an increase of slightly over $10 million, to a total of $350 million.
  • The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program receives $350 million in funding targeted to borrowers who would be eligible to participate, but were enrolled in the wrong repayment plan. It also includes $2.3 million in new funds for the secretary of education to perform outreach to borrowers about PSLF.  
  • NIH is funded at $37.1 billion, an increase of $3 billion, or 8.8 percent, above FY 2017.  The report also includes language that prohibits the agency from capping Facilities and Administration costs.
  • NSF receives $7.77 billion, $295 million above the FY 2017 level and $1.1 billion above the president’s request. 
  • The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities each receive a $3 million increase, while the president’s budget had called for both to be eliminated.  
  • The Title III and Title V programs receive across-the-board increases of 14.3 percent, which represents more than $82 million in new funding. 

As Inside Higher Ed pointed out yesterday, the bill “hamstrings” other administration priorities by prohibiting the secretary from breaking up the ED’s central budget office, revealed last week by P​​olitico. It also requires the ED to provide quarterly reports on borrower defense to repayment claims, which allow students to seek loan forgiveness when they are defrauded or misled by their institution.

This measure is quite good news for higher education. ACE and 39 other higher education associations supported its passage in this letter​ to Congress. However, it was extremely disappointing that that the measure failed to address the fate of the Dreamers or fix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which currently is in legal limbo.

“There is broad support across both parties for providing legal status to these young people and the benefits they bring to our country,” the groups said in their letter. “We urge you in your roles as leaders to work towards a resolution of the DACA issue soon.”

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