A Little Pell, A Little Pork

One thing about Senate’s controversial funding measure, at least it would fix the Pell Grant problem. According to a piece by Doug Lederman at Inside Higher Ed:

Senate leaders on Tuesday unveiled an omnibus spending bill to fund the government’s operations for the 2011 fiscal year that they say would sustain the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550… and boost funds for the National Institutes of Health by $750 million over the 2010 level.

The latter fact is one major reason why higher education leaders would prefer the Senate legislation to the yearlong continuing resolution that the House passed last week — others include the hundreds and hundreds of directed “earmarks” (and the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars represented by those earmarks) that the Senate legislation would channel to individual colleges and universities for pet projects requested by their elected representatives.

Fiscal year 2011 began on October 1 without Congress having taken care of the funding necessary to keep the government operating. So now both houses of Congress are struggling to pass bills before members go home for the holidays, and the new, more conservative, legislature takes over on January 3.

The House is working on a resolution that would subsidize most federal programs at individual 2010 levels. The Senate, in contrast, is trying to pass an omnibus spending bill, meaning that it will set the budgets of the departments of the United States government all at once.

Technically both bills would generate the $5.7 billion needed to close the Pell Grant shortfall. That would keep the maximum Pell award at $5,550 a student. Without the infusion the maximum award would fall to about $4,700 a year.

But Pundits often criticize omnibus spending bills for being incredibly pork-laden. That’s exactly what’s going on here. The $1.108 trillion spending package includes $8 billion for 6,600 Congressional earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

That’s why higher education leaders like it. A quick look at the appropriations reveals, for instance, that Cornell University would get $400,000 for a “National Textile Center.” The University of Kentucky would get $275,000 for the “University of Kentucky Evaluation of Firefighter Turnout Gear for Safety.” Dixie State College of Utah would get $400,000 for “Cybercrime Detection and Computer Support Training.”

The University of Mississippi, the real winner under the Senate bill, would get more than $5 million for its “National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology.” Oxford, where Ole Miss is located, is more than 300 miles from the ocean.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer