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By Sean Gorman October 1, 2012

Tim Kaine says George Allen voted to end Pell Grants for 84,000 students

Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine says that George Allen, his Republican opponent, is no friend of students struggling to pay for college.

"Allen voted to end Pell Grants for 84,000 students," Kaine said in a September 12 news release.

The Pell Grant program is primarily aimed at helping low-income undergraduates by providing federal grants, based on need. The maximum award to a student is now $5,500 a school year.

Allen served in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2007. Kaine backs up his charge by citing a vote Allen cast on Sept. 10, 2003, on an amendment to an appropriations bill funding the Department of Education and other agencies.

The amendment proposed to stop a plan by the Department of Education to tighten the formula for determining Pell Grant eligibility during the 2004-05 school year by changing how much families could deduct on financial disclosure forms for the state and local taxes they paid. It would have been the first time in 10 years that the formula had been changed.

Demand for Pell Grants had been steadily rising as more low-income students were going to college. The new formula was designed to ease pressure on the program by ending the eligibility of students who came from the most well-off of the low-income families.

Sen. John Corzine, D-NJ, successfully sponsored an amendment to delay implementation of the new formula for a year. The amendment passed the Senate, 51-44, with Allen voting against it.

Kaine’s campaign cited a story that ran in The Chronicle of Higher Education shortly after the vote. It said the Department of Education estimated that 84,000 students -- 1.6 percent of Pell Grant recipients --  would lose eligibility for the program in the 2004-05 school year if the new formula went into effect.

The 84,000 figure was widely reported in 2003 and a number of newspapers, including The New York Times, attributed it to a study by the Congressional Research Service that June.

We could not find a copy of the CRS report. But we did track down a January 2005 study by the U.S. Government Accounting Office that said the changed formula  "would have likely resulted in a decrease in Pell Grant awards for about 36 percent of students, and an additional 92,000 applicants (2 percent) would no longer have been eligible for the grant."

The Education Department said most of those losing eligibility would be students from higher income families who would no longer receive the minimum grant of $400 back then.

Allen’s campaign, in a web post, said Kaine’s claim "doesn’t add up," because Allen voted for the for the overall education appropriation bill for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2003 and it increased total spending for Pell Grants as well the number of recipients.

Department of Education figures show the appropriation for Pell Grants rose from $11.36 billion in the 2002-2003 fiscal year to $12 billion in 2003-2004 -- a $640 million increase. That would have outweighed the $290 million in savings from the changed formula estimated by the GAO.

The number of Pell Grant recipients increased from 5.1 million in the 2003-2004 school year to 5.3 million in 2004-2005.

Congress did not stand in the way of the formula change a second time and it was incorporated in the education budget for the 2005-2006 school year.  The number of Pell Grant recipients fell to 5.17 million that year. The total appropriation for the grants rose to $12.36 billion due to the complicated nature of the program.

Our ruling

Kaine said Allen voted to end Pell Grants for 84,000 students. The need-based federal grant typically goes to undergraduate students from low-income families.  

There’s no doubt that Allen in 2003 cast a specific vote to alter the financial aid formula for awarding Pell Grants and that the non-partisan GAO said the change would drop 92,000 students from eligibility. He was on the losing side of that vote.

Allen argues that even if the more restrictive formula had been enacted back then, the overall education budget -- which he supported -- would have still increased total funding for Pell Grants and the number of recipients would have risen the next school year. He’s right on that point.

So Kaine’s statement is accurate but lacks some information: Allen’s vote would not have cut the overall Pell Grant program; it would have slowed its rate of growth. For that we reason, we rate Kaine’s statement Mostly True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Kaine for Virginia, "Allen ad a drastic departure from Allen’s record, proposals," September 12, 2012.

Chronicle of Higher Education, "Senate rejects rise in Pell Grants," September 19, 2003.

Government Accountability Office, "Department of Education’s update of the state and other tax allowance for student aid award year 2005-2006," March 22, 2005.

Government Accountability Office, "Need determination could be enhanced through improvements in Education’s estimate of applicants’ state tax payments,"January, 2005.

New York Times, "Tens of thousands will lose college aid, report says," July 18, 2003.

E-mail from Brandi Hoffine, spokeswoman for the Kaine campaign, September 14, 2012.
George Allen for Senate, "PolitiFact and Pell Grants," September 13, 2012.

U.S. Senate, "Roll Call votes 108th Congress - 1st session," September 10, 2003.

Congressional Record, "Consideration of Senate Amendment 1602," September 9, 2003.

U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, "Wall Street Journal on Democrat claims of Pells Grant ‘cuts’: ‘The numbers tell a different story,’" September 17, 2003.

E-mail from Tony Pals, director of communications for the National Association of Independent College and Universities, September 7, 2012.

U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, "Don’t fall for the partisan Pell Grant fraud," October 2, 2003.

Chronicle of Higher Education, "U.S. Senate rejects changes in Federal student-aid formula," September 11, 2003.

Chronicle of Higher Education, "Thousands of students could lose Pell Grants under spending bill approved on Saturday," November 22, 2004.

Chronicle of Higher Education, "GAO report faults education department for delay in updating tax tables to calculate student aid," January 31, 2005.

Chronicle of Higher Education, "Government’s change in calculating need will deny Pell Grants to 81,000 students, GAO report confirms," April 26, 2005.

U.S. Department of Education, "Federal Pell Grant program," accessed September 26, 2012.

U.S. Department of Education "2005-2006 federal Pell Grant program end-of-year report," accessed September 25, 2012.

U.S. Department of Education, "2004-2005 federal Pell Grant program end-of-year report," accessed September 25, 2012.

Congressional Research Service, "Federal Pell Grant program of the Higher Education Act: background and reauthorization," January 20, 2008.

New York Times, "Pell Grant reduction averted in Congress," November 21, 2003.

New York Times, "Bill clears way for government to cut back college loans,"  November 21, 2004.

American Association of University Professors, "New formula may endanger Pell Grant awards," November-December 2003.

Los Angeles Times, "Pell Grant change could limit student financial assistance," November 24, 2004.

Los Angeles Times, "Low-income students lose aid," July 19, 2003.

George Allen for U.S. Senate, "PolitiFact and Pell Grants," Sept. 13, 2012.

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