House education budget bill softens White House’s proposed cuts

The bill increases funding for TRIO programs and the NIH; overall cuts $2.4 billion in education funding.

by Max Chao

A U.S. congressional committee approved an education budget bill this month that would cut far less than a White House proposal from earlier this year.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a health, human services and education budget July 19 that added funding to several programs the White House budget would have cut.

The bill, while approved by the House committee, still faces a long road to passage. Both the House and Senate must pass the bill before the president’s signature finalizes it.

President Donald Trump’s education budget called for over $9.2 billion in education cuts – $6.8 billion more than the House bill’s $2.4 billion reduction.

The House bill would also remove $3.3 billion of the $8.5 billion Pell Grant surplus.

One of the most notable changes is a $1.1 billion increase to National Institutes of Health funding, $8.6 billion above Trump’s proposal.

Federal awards account for almost 60 percent of external research funding at the University of Minnesota and the NIH accounts for most of that, said Dan Gilchrist, communications director for the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University.

Currently, the University has received over $159 million of NIH funding in Fiscal Year 2017.

Gilchrist said the committee’s NIH support is not surprising because there has been historical bipartisan support of biomedical research.

While the increase in funding is encouraging, the unpredictability of the final budget still merits concern, he said.

“We’re not clanging alarm bells [but] at the same time … we are very concerned,” Gilchrist said.

Another area where the House bill differs from the president’s is its increased funding for TRIO, a group of programs to support underrepresented and disadvantaged students.

TRIO received $1.01 billion in the bill, a $60 million increase, while Trump called for a cut to TRIO that would have given the program $808 million.

In a statement, directors from three of the University’s TRIO programs said they greatly appreciate the bipartisan support and the proposed funding levels would allow them to enhance their services.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who sits on the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, visited the University campus in April to hear from student and faculty advocates of TRIO and NIH.

In an emailed statement, Franken said Trump’s proposed budget would be “an unmitigated disaster” for students, also adding he was supportive of the House bill.

“While the draft spending bill from the House of Representatives leaves much room for improvement in many areas, I’m pleased that it abandons the Trump administration’s drastic cuts to the NIH and TRIO programs,” said Franken in the statement.