The Administration supports Senate passage of H.R. 974, as reported by the
Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. H.R. 974 would increase access
to postsecondary education for residents of the District of Columbia
(D.C.). While the Administration is extremely pleased with the strong
bipartisan spirit in which H.R. 974 has been developed, the Administration
continues to be concerned about the phase-in of student eligibility, and
urges the Senate to amend H.R. 974 to address this concern. The
Administration understands that the bill may be amended to alleviate this
and other concerns.
The President's FY 2000 Budget includes $17 million to improve access to
postsecondary education for D.C. residents. Currently, residents of all 50
states are served by multiple public colleges or universities, while D.C.
residents are not. This unduly restricts their postsecondary
opportunities. The Administration is pleased that H.R. 974 would: (1)
allow the Federal Government to pay the difference between in-State and
out-of-State tuition at public colleges and universities in Maryland and
Virginia (and in other States under certain circumstances) on behalf of
qualified D.C. residents; (2) provide grants to D.C. residents who choose
to attend private colleges and universities in the Washington, D.C. area;
and (3) authorize financial support to the University of the District of
The Administration is concerned about the provision of the bill as reported
that would restrict its benefits to only those students who graduated from
secondary school or received the equivalent of a secondary school diploma
on or after January 1, 1999. The Administration understands that the bill
may be amended to provide benefits to students who graduated on or after
January 1, 1998. The Administration urges adoption of this amendment.
Limiting benefits to graduates after January 1, 1999, would be problematic
for two reasons:
- It would unnecessarily limit eligibility. The Administration
anticipates that resources will be available to fully fund the benefits
to students who graduated before January 1, 1999, and could help
many D.C. residents currently in college obtain their degrees. A lack
of financial resources is a leading reason why many students who enroll
in college do not complete their degree programs.
- It could distort the program and make it prohibitively expensive in
the future. Because so few students would be initially eligible under
the bill, the low initial program costs could result in pressure to
prematurely expand the program to include grants for students to attend
institutions in States other than Maryland and Virginia. Many more
students would be eligible to receive these grants if the geographic
scope of the program were expanded, and serious funding constraints and
reduced benefits would be likely if the program were expanded before
student eligibility is fully phased in. It is very important that
students who begin attending postsecondary institutions outside of D.C.
be assured of continuing, unreduced benefits.
The Administration is pleased that the reported version of H.R. 974
includes the authority for the Mayor of the District of Columbia to, in the
event of insufficient appropriations, adjust the amount of tuition payments
based on the financial need of eligible students. The Administration would
prefer that H.R. 974 ensure that Federal resources are provided to those
students with the greatest need for financial assistance by including some
form of priority funding mechanism. The Administration notes, however,
that the provision in the reported version of H.R. 974 is a step in the
right direction. The Administration understands that the bill may be
amended to authorize the Mayor, when administering the program, to give
priority to students with the greatest financial need. The Administration
urges adoption of this amendment.