Tierney Fights For Massachusetts Schools

Date: July 22, 2005
Location: Washington DC

July 22, 2005

Tierney Fights For Massachusetts Schools
Reauthorization of Higher Education Act Spells Trouble for Students and Families

Washington, DC - Today, Congressman John F. Tierney (D-Salem) challenged a Republican proposal that would drastically cut federal student financial aid programs nationwide, including an estimated $9.4 million from universities and colleges in Massachusetts. The Republicans proposed cutting the funding during debate on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) in the Education and Workforce Committee. The bill (H.R. 609) is expected to be voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives in September.

"The Republicans' reauthorization bill proposes the largest single cut to federal student aid programs in its 40-year history. Opening up more college opportunities is the key to restoring America's economic competitiveness and this bill will only make it harder for young people and their families to pay for college," explained Tierney.

During consideration of H.R. 609, Congressman Tierney offered an amendment to the bill that would have protected Massachusetts's schools from an estimated $9.4 million cut in financial aid for students.

"After all of the members of the Education and Workforce Committee voted on my amendment, 24 voted yes, 23 voted no, and one voted 'present.' Only after the Republican Chairman of the Committee publicly asked a Republican to change his vote, and the vote was recounted, did 24 vote yes and 24 vote no, and the amendment did not pass," explained Congressman Tierney.

Under the Higher Education Act, colleges and universities receive federal funding to provide students with need-based financial aid. The aid comes through three principal programs - Work Study, Perkins Loans, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants - which are collectively referred to as "campus-based" aid programs. H.R. 609 changes the funding formula for these "campus-based" aid programs, but does not increase the funding provided.

"Under the new funding formula proposed in H.R. 609, many colleges around the country, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest will be hurt, and two colleges in my district will lose funds. Salem State College could lose $526,000 and Merrimack College could lose $56,000 in federal funds for need-based financial aid for their students. Institutions like Northeastern University could lose up to $3.9 million," explained Congressman Tierney.

Under current law, a portion of the funding for "campus-based" aid programs is allocated to institutions based on the amount of federal dollars each institution has received in past years (a so-called base guarantee). Under H.R. 609, the base guarantee is eliminated and the overall funding level does not increase adequately, so a redistribution of federal funds could result in big cuts for colleges and universities.

Congressman Tierney's amendment would ensure that no school loses funding because of the formula change. It would allow the formula change to take effect only when coupled with adequate funding for campus-based aid.

"Access to affordable, quality education has never been more important. We need to develop an aggressive strategy to compete in the global economy. Investing in higher education is critical to the future of our young people and for our nation," said Tierney.

Every five years, Congress must renew the Higher Education Act, the law governing all aspects of the federal government's involvement in higher education, from student loans to Pell grants and other programs. The House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee, of which Congressman Tierney is the only New England Member, considered H.R. 609 as part of what is formally called "reauthorization."

"At a time when our business community reminds us of the need for more college graduates and as measures like No Child Left Behind are intended to create more college-bound qualified students, this measure will impede, not enhance, college affordability and, thus, our economic ability to compete with businesses in other regions and other countries," said Tierney.

In the 1970s, Pell Grants covered almost 80% off the cost of a 4-year public college education. Now they cover less than 40%. Regrettably, this bill does nothing to address this problem.

"After passing massive tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent of Americans and undertaking essentially sole responsibility for the cost of the Iraq war, the Republicans have chosen to force the burden of the subsequent budget shortfall onto the backs of America's college students by cutting $11 billion out of federal student assistance," added Tierney.

After three days of deliberation, the House Education and the Workforce Committee passed H.R 609, with no Democrats supporting the bill. In September it is expected to come to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is also working on its own version of the Higher Education reauthorization bill that is expected to be considerably different from the House Republican bill.

"The fight is not over. I will continue to work to restore funds for higher education as this process moves forward. Nothing could be more important than investing in our future and providing our young people with quality, affordable education," concluded Tierney."