Parents, students praise D.C. TAG in effort to shore up congressional support

D.C. parents, students and college graduates gathered on Capitol Hill this week to share their praise for a federally funded program that helps city students pay for higher education.

“Coming from D.C., it’s just a real assurance, a faith and a belief in you going on to do bigger and better things,” said Channell Autrey, a 2005 graduate of the School Without Walls. Autrey used the money she received from the program to attend Pennsylvania State University and now works as a public defender in Baltimore.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) convened the roundtable discussion at the Rayburn House Office Building on Tuesday night to draw attention to and shore up congressional support for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, known as D.C. TAG.

“I thought it appropriate to have it right here where the appropriators are,” Norton said, adding that she wanted members of Congress to hear how TAG has affected real people’s lives. “I’m trying to say: Well, this is the program you always liked, I hope you continue to like it.”

Since TAG’s inception in 2000, more than $317 million has gone to help more than 20,000 students pay for college. Congress appropriated $30 million this year for the program, which provides up to $10,000 per year for students to attend out-of-state public schools and up to $2,500 for historically black universities and private schools in the Washington area.

But Norton has warned that those funds might be in danger because of the D.C. Council’s move to create a new, locally funded college-aid program known as D.C. Promise, meant to offer students additional funds to meet the rising cost of higher education.

Appropriators would see no need to continue funding TAG, Norton argued, if the city showed the ability to pay for its own scholarship program. “D.C. wants to fool with that,” she said. “It must be crazy.”

Greta Kreuz, a local television news broadcaster whose two children attended private schools in Washington, said at the roundtable that TAG has served as an incentive to stay in the city for many families who might otherwise have moved to the suburbs.

Samuel Cuffee, a Coolidge High graduate attending Bowie State University, said he grew up without a lot of role models who had continued their education after high school. “D.C. TAG was just the push that I needed to get into college,” he said.

President Obama included $40 million for TAG in his proposed budget this year, a move that Norton said should help the program as Congress enters budget negotiations.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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