As Barack Obama's roughly $800 billion stimulus package comes together on Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers are pushing to include provisions for education, from college tuition tax credits to block grants for state and local education budgets.
As Congress firms up the package's outlines, spurred on by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's deadline of Presidents Day, the bill seems likely to include a "handful" of measures for education, says New York Sen. Charles Schumer. Meanwhile, recent plans to provide more than $160 billion to state and local governments seem certain to use education as a primary venue for the funding.
Specific components will include infrastructural spending on building and renovating schools, Schumer says. Another likely provision in the bill will be expanding college tuition tax credits, a cause Schumer has been promoting.
"Every time the economy prevents one young man or young woman from going to college because they can't afford it even though they deserve to get in, it hurts them, it hurts their families, and it hurts America," he says. "We all know that while college is priced like a luxury, it has become a necessity."
The proposed measure, he says, would at least double—and in some cases quadruple—current college tuition tax benefits to middle-class families. Some reports say that the stimulus could provide $140 billion more for education than the federal government currently provides, including an additional $15 billion in Pell grants for low-income students.
Along with those components, Schumer has been pushing for $80 billion in block grants for schools as part of the package. That federal money would be granted to states and localities to help them stabilize their budgets and would be a temporary measure, ending after two years.
"An immediate infusion of dollars from Congress will help prevent the kinds of draconian cuts at the state level from which it takes years to recover," says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Meanwhile, by helping localities with their budgets, Schumer says, the grants would help stave off property tax increases around the nation.
"It makes no sense for the federal government to be pushing money into the economy while the state and local governments are taking money out of the economy by raising taxes or laying people off," he says. "This is supposed to mitigate that."
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