Norton worries funding for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program will be cut if the D.C. Council passes the D.C. Promise Act, which Gray supports. The D.C. Promise Act is up for final council approval on March 4.
“This council and this mayor better be prepared to step up to the plate,” warned Councilmember Jack Evans, a Democrat who is also campaigning for mayor. Evans believes that a Congress running trillion-dollar deficits might see the $30 million program as an easy cut.
Supporters tried to assuage Norton’s concerns with a package of amendments adopted on Tuesday that lowered the bottom line, reducing maximum aid per student from $60,000 to $30,000, effectively cutting the cost of a program initially estimated to cost the District as much as $50 million per year.
They also emphasized that Promise would be fundamentally different in scope and goals than TAG, which helps students in almost any income bracket offset the higher cost of out-of-state tuition when applying to schools around the country.
Catania indicated he had contacted Capitol Hill to try to root out which congressional appropriators viewed Promise money as a reason to rethink TAG funding.
Norton’s concerns are based on language in a House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee report on fiscal 2014 that invited the city to fund more of the program, saying, “the District of Columbia can contribute local funds to this program if there is demand for the program.”
Neither Appropriations Committee has issued a statement on the D.C. Promise Act, but Senate Appropriations Committee spokesman Vincent Morris said: “It’s too early to comment until the president’s budget is submitted and we see whether the council bill actually becomes law. But I’m sure the committee will look closely [at] this when senators decide how much federal money ought to be invested in the existing college assistance program.”
Norton is requesting Obama provide $35.1 million for TAG in fiscal 2015, saying presidential support would give the program a better chance of avoiding cuts.
“DCTAG survived severe pressure for cuts over the last two years, which saw the largest annual federal cuts in U.S. history, and federal programs are still undergoing annual cuts,” she said in a release. “My letter is one step to do all we can to keep the administration from getting the same signals from the vote on the Promise bill that the appropriators have indicated they received.”