A key House subcommittee approved an $8.6 million boost yesterday for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, sustaining growth of an initiative that allows city high school graduates to attend colleges and universities across the country at reduced tuition.
The increase was included in an $8.2 billion 2005 D.C. budget bill that cleared the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District after a four-minute hearing.
"This bill does not provide everything everyone wanted, but it is a fair and balanced bill," said Chairman Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.). "I suspect there will be some changes, but my desire is to move the bill through the process as quickly as possible, so the city can expend its money for its citizens."
The bill includes local District operating and capital funds, federal grants and $560 million in a direct appropriation for the city. The measure is to go to the full committee Wednesday and to the House floor as soon as July 28, Republican committee officials said. If the schedule holds, the District budget would complete one of the smoothest paths to passage in recent years.
The Senate has not scheduled action on the budget, and any differences will be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.
A summary of the budget bill released by the House subcommittee includes $72 million for federal education initiatives.
The tuition aid boost, from $17 million to $25.6 million, will accommodate increasing enrollment and rising tuition, city officials said. About 5,000 District students received grants in 2004. The number of D.C. high school graduates enrolling as freshmen in U.S. colleges rose from 1,750 in 1998 to 2,230 in 2002, a 27 percent increase that Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has attributed in large part to the program.
The bill also provides a total of $40 million in funds related to a school voucher pilot program, including $13 million to fully fund a second year of vouchers for children who want to attend private schools and $26 million in matching funds for D.C. public charter and regular public schools.
Frelinghuysen also included $6 million to improve libraries in D.C. elementary schools, provided that the District match the federal funds dollar for dollar.
The budget sustains a reimbursable D.C. homeland security account at $15 million, and House and Senate negotiators loosened cash reserve requirements on the city, freeing up at least $50 million a year.
The House rejected a number of special funding requests, including $10 million for increased security for next year's presidential inauguration, $9 million for a new bioterrorism and forensics evidence laboratory and $15 million to improve school security.