Students, Castor speak out against higher ed cuts in GOP budget listen04/27/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Two weeks ago, Republicans in the US House of Representatives passed a budget that would drastically cut health care and education. The beneficiaries of several programs on the chopping block spoke out today at Hillsborough Community College.
Tampa mother Cydney Porter left the hospitality industry to become a paralegal. With the help of a federal Pell Grant and TRIO student service programs, she expects to get her associate’s degree in January. She worries about how a proposed 62 percent reduction in Pell Grants, and a $25 million reduction in TRIO would impact her future.
"Without the Pell Grant and the support of Student Support Services and the financial support of Student Support Services I will not be able to continue my education. Without the funding of these programs it is not going to be possible for me to continue my education and those of the other students that depend on this funding."
Middleton High student Aaron Harrell is headed to University of Florida in the Fall. He plans to major in computer engineering. Harrell said he’s benefited greatly from the Upward Bound program, one of several education services TRIO currently offers college-bound high school students, and would hate to see his younger siblings lose out on the program.
"I just really hope that it stays. I have two younger sisters, one in 7th grade and one in 8th and I would really like for them to move on into it because it's been a great help to me. I truly think that if it wasn't for Upward Bound I would not be accepted to the University of Florida."
Nationwide, more than nine million students receive Pell Grants. The maximum award is about $5,500 annually. The proposed budget would cut that to about $4,700. It would also knock around 1.4 million students off the rolls by narrowing eligibility criteria. Harrell and Porter both said they’re determined to pursue higher education no matter what, but others may have no other options but to drop out, or not even enroll in the first place. US Representative Kathy Castor said fewer kids enrolling would impact the local economy.
"We're an education town. We have so many jobs at USF and HCC and the public schools. When we don't have that support flowing in it's going to cost us jobs as well. They would have to eliminate teaching jobs at HIllsborough County Public Schools, Head Start teachers and the same would happen at USF, HCC, and our other institutions of higher learning."
Not everyone agrees. Tim Curtis, a conservative Democrat and Tampa 9-12 Project co-founder who ran against Castor in the 2010 Democratic primary, said it’s about time post-secondary institutions made cuts like everyone else instead of steadily raising tuition.
"If our institutions of education, higher learning, where ever they may be are really so concerned about the education of young people and making education opportunities available it would seem that at this point, most especially at this point, that those same institutions, the leaders of those institutions would come out strong and say, 'we want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to education. Consequently we're going to forgo a pay raise. We're going to forgo this special little project over here or over there."
In an interview with radio podcast Everyday Radio earlier this month, Republican Representative from Montana Danny Rehberg compared Pell Grants to welfare.
"You can go to college on Pell Grants, maybe I should not be telling anybody this, because it's turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century. You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, long term energy assistance, Section 8 housing and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don't have to graduate from college. There ought to be some kind of a commitment in the end game."
Castor said the GOP budget is going after the wrong guy. She said corporations are getting away with paying little to no federal taxes, and that’s where the government needs to look if it’s serious about tackling the deficit.
"We all agree that we've got to slash the debt and the deficit but there are very distinct choices to be made on how to do that."
Curtis said he doesn’t think that would solve the problem, and said if Democrats seriously believe that, they need to put their money where their mouth is.
"They're not serious because they could have done something very specific, yet they chose, with a conscious choice, not to do it because they know it's a bunch of hogwash. General Electric pays zero corporate income tax and is one of the biggest contributors to my party, the Democrat party yet, we the Democrats did absolutely nothing to make a change there because Jeffrey Immelt is a friend of ours."
Regardless of where the dollars come and go, Hillsborough Community College President Ken Atwater said the futures of millions of students may hang in the balance. For Atwater, education assistance is about one thing
"It's a simple matter of access. By all means. By cutting Pell, and cutting Title 4 aid it's really denying access. We're founded on the pillars of access to higher education."
The cuts to higher education spending are part of a GOP budget blueprint proposed by Republican Representative Paul Ryan. Few expect it to pass, given the Democratic majority in the Senate and the Obama Administration’s opposition to many of its key parts.