Kinks in grant program need to be fixed

Republicans in Congress are pushing for a new initiative that would change the landscape of education in this country. Last month, they proposed a new five-year, $3.75 billion student aid program that would provide grants to low-income college students, supplementing the current Pell grants.

Qualifying students would have graduated from “a rigorous secondary school program of study.” The grants range from $750 to $1,300 for college freshmen and sophomores. College juniors and seniors majoring in math, science or engineering fields would be given $4,000 grants. Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, estimates that more than 500,000 students would be eligible for the grants.

As it reads now, the secretary of education will be the one to determine which students from which high schools would be eligible for the grants. The program is based on a model that began in Texas, when President Bush was governor. It was designed to encourage more students to take a “rigorous” course load, meaning four years of English, three years of social studies, two years of a foreign language and multiple years of math and science.

Giving extra aid to college students is always an excellent idea, as costs skyrocket much faster than federal aid. However, the new legislation still has kinks to be worked out before it can be truly effective. Even assistant secretary of education Sally Stroup admitted in a New York Times article, “We haven’t actually sat down yet and decided how we’re going to go about it.”

They need to hurry and decide, because the program is expected to pass the House next month, and therefore be in effect by the fall, giving the Department of Education almost $800 million to distribute. Having that amount of money available and not knowing what to do with it is unacceptable.

Critics say the bill was hastily thrown together and no Democrats were consulted during the drafting process. They also stress that although Pell grants have been based on financial need, these new grants carry grade point average requirements, shutting out some of the people who might need the grant money the most. Lawmakers will then have to decide how to treat students enrolled at colleges that don’t assign letter grades.

The wording of the bill doesn’t cover students who went to private school or were home-schooled, which doesn’t sit well with the National Association of Independent Schools. The organization sent a letter to Congress claiming that the bill would “inadvertently exclude over 5.3 million private K-12 students.”

We applaud the government for recognizing that more federal aid is necessary, but we don’t like the haphazard nature in which it came about. Democrats in Congress might be a pain in the Republicans’ side, but they raise valid questions, and so far, the Republicans don’t have many answers. It serves no purpose to rush legislation if the ones backing it don’t even know how it’s going to work. More time and research needs to be done before this new program can have the far-reaching effects the lawmakers desire. Only then will it be helpful to students.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.