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Iowa students would feel government shutdown through loss of Pell Grants, Head Start access

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/07/MahurinRedlining_Thumb.jpgA federal government shutdown will occur unless a continuing resolution deal is reached in Washington, D.C. for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. Or, short of that, an agreement for another extension. If a compromise is not reached, or if the U.S. House Republican proposals go through, thousands of Iowa students would be cut from the Head Start program and college students would lose significant aid for higher education.

Head Start provides education for low income children prior to kindergarten. According to internal documents, in 2009 Head Start provided 8,137 Iowa children with preschool education, and an additional 1,771 pregnant women and their children under age 3 benefited from Early Head Start programs. Head Start funding provides jobs for 2,411 Iowa workers, including nearly 500 teachers.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created 61,000 slots for children to enroll in Head Start nationwide; however, that funding is going away. House Republicans have proposed a 15 percent reduction in funding for Head Start, cutting $1.08 billion from the program’s budget. The Republican cuts coupled with the loss of ARRA funding would translate to a reduction in 1,794 children in Iowa from being enrolled in Head Start.

Some 157,000 at-risk children up to age 5 could lose education, health, nutrition and other services under Head Start nationwide.

Cuts to Head Start, like other preschool programs, contradict a growing body of research suggesting investment in early education leads to children being less likely to get involved in criminal activity, and become generally more successful in their education.

Republicans have also proposed a nearly 25 percent cut to Pell grants under H.R. 1, which was passed by the House on a party-line vote. H.R. 1 cuts Pell grants by $5.7 billion and reduces the amount of maximum award by $845, from $4,860 to $4,015. For Iowa, this would be a $116 million cut in funding for the current fiscal year in Pell grants, affecting 203,000 students in the state. It would affect 9,413,000 students nationwide.

Pell grants are awarded based on information regarding a student’s personal income and — if they are 25 or younger — their parents income provided in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The awards could potentially cover tuition for community college, but could not cover in-state tuition at a public university, let alone a private college. Nor would the grants alone extend to cover books, housing, or meals.

However, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which was attached to the Affordable Care Act, increased the maximum award incrementally every three years up to 2017. The Congressional Budget Office estimates H.R. 1 will generate $64 billion in cuts in Pell Grant mandatory funding over the next 10 years as a result of the deep reduction it would make in the 2011 fiscal year. It would go on to make a 30 percent reduction in 2014 to Pell grants, and a 34 percent reduction in 2017.

Last week, the House voted and barely passed a measure to make H.R. 1 law if the Senate fails to act to prevent a government shutdown. Of course, the legislation dubbed the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act” is unconstitutional, because the House cannot unilaterally enact law.

Iowa Republican U.S. Reps Steve King and Tom Latham both voted in favor of the “Shutdown Prevention Act.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) decried the Republican proposals last month, calling them unbalanced.

“From crib to college, Iowa students will be at a disadvantage if the House proposal is enacted,” said Harkin. “There is no question that the time has come for tough budget decisions, but the smart way to bring down the deficit is for Congress to pursue a balanced approach of major spending cuts and necessary revenue increases, while continuing to make investments in education.”

It should also be noted the Obama administration put forward a proposal to cut year-round Pell grants, effectively eliminating them for summer semesters.

In March, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) asked for an explanation during a committee hearing about the reasoning for those cuts. Loebsack said in 2010, Pell grants funded 760,000 students nationwide, including 6,618 Iowans.

“There is no question that tough choices need to be made to get our nation’s fiscal health in order,” Loebsack said, “but cutting funding to Pell grants, or limiting their availability, will put our country at a competitive disadvantage by making it harder for students to afford quality education, and harder for workers to receive the training they need to succeed in the 21st century economy.”

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