Obama poised to give financial aid to federal, state prisoners

Politico – by Allie Grasgreen

More prisoners may soon have access to federal subsidies to pay for college under a new Obama administration initiative, ending a 20-year ban on Pell grants for state and federal prisoners.

The move could come as soon as this week. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are scheduled to visit Goucher College’s Prison Education Partnership at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup on Friday, to make “an important announcement related to federal aid.”  

On Monday, Duncan said that restoring Pell eligibility for those potential students is one way his agency hopes to increase college affordability.

“We’ll have more information soon,” Duncan said.

His agency could circumvent the federal ban, doing an end-run around Congress, through its experimental sites program, which gives some colleges limited exemptions to federal financial aid rules.

“A lot of my friends here in Washington have been talking about the need for debt-free degrees. And they’re right,” Duncan said during a higher education policy speech at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “We want to do even more, developing experimental sites that will make Pell grants available to programs that award credentials based on demonstrated competency, to incarcerated adults seeking an independent, productive life after release, and to adult learners who enroll in short-term certificate programs that provide job-ready training.”

For the current academic year, Pell grants are worth up to $5,775.

The Obama administration has increased total federal aid available to students by more than $50 billion and increased tax benefits and credits by an additional $12 billion, part of a total of about $150 billion a year in grants and loans for higher education. More than 2 million additional students now receive Pell grants, and the maximum Pell award has increased by more than $1,000.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for such a policy, and House Democrats including education committee ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced legislation to reinstate Pell eligibility for federal and state prisoners. (Prisoners in local, municipal or county correctional facilities haven’t been banned from access to Pell.)

Prisoners who participate in correctional education programs are 43 percent less likely to return to prison and 13 percent more likely to have a job after finishing their sentence, the bill’s co-sponsors noted.

Late last year, the Education Department clarified that students in juvenile justice facilities that aren’t federal or state institutions are eligible for Pell grants. And in recent months, President Barack Obama has called for reform of the criminal justice system.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/barack-obama-financial-aid-college-federal-state-prisoners-pell-grant-120680.html#ixzz3hBRkd0O1

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