WASHINGTON (AP) -- A half-dozen federal grants to Minnesota schools worth more than $3 million are in jeopardy because of a proposal by the Bush administration to divert money to pay for a deficit in the Pell Grant student loan program.
The Minnesota grants are among hundreds of previously funded programs Bush will ask Congress to scrap when he submits his budget request next Monday.
Minnesota programs on the chopping block include ones aimed at the developmentally disabled, at-risk students, daycare and online learning.
"If these rescissions come to the Senate, I promise a mega-filibuster," said Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., who sponsored several of the Minnesota grants. "There is no way I'm going to let this happen."
Because the Pell Grant program doesn't turn away eligible students, it has had to give out more than its budget allowed. The result is a $1.3 billion shortfall, which Bush wants to plug by eliminating the lawmakers' "earmarked" programs. Eighty-five percent of Pell recipients come from families with incomes below $30,000.
Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said through a spokeswoman that he supports fully funding the Pell Grant program. But the spokeswoman, Sara Howard, said the program should be paid for by freezing tax cuts for the top tax bracket "so that we aren't forced to favor one child's education over another's."
But the White House argues grants and projects that are earmarked by specific lawmakers, like the ones it proposes eliminating, are not subject to merit-based agency reviews and are therefore not a wise use of taxpayer dollars. Critics deride such spending as "pork."
The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System would absorb the biggest hit in the state. Two grants worth $1 million apiece would be eliminated: one for developing online degrees, sponsored by Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Bloomington and Wellstone, and the other to provide online mentoring, sponsored by Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Rochester and Wellstone.
The Fraser Child and Family Center in Richfield, which provides services to young children with autism and neurological disorders, would lose out on a $200,000 grant for training, research and treatment. That grant was sponsored by Rep. Bill Luther, D-Woodbury.
CEO Diane Cross called the proposal an "atrocity." "These are children who will probably never get to college," she said. "Where are the resources for these children?"
The Centennial School District in Circle Pines would forfeit a $293,000 grant for a new after-school program aimed at at-risk students, sponsored by Luther.
"The whole concept is to improve students' academic achievement, get students to read at grade level," said Superintendent John Christiansen.
The Greater Minneapolis Day Care Association would have to forego a $350,000 grant for a demonstration project to improve early learning and after-school programs. That grant was sponsored by Wellstone.
"It's an opportunity for us to rethink how we can help parents with the cost of childcare and improve childcare for children," said executive director Sharon Henry-Blythe.
And Independent School District 834 in Stillwater would miss out on a $227,000 grant for an after-school program, sponsored by Luther. Officials there did not return a phone message left Thursday.
School programs are not the only ones on the chopping block. The administration also proposes to cut some labor, health and human services grants. One of them is a $500,000 work force readiness grant, sponsored by Wellstone, to the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, which works with homeless veterans.
"We were really looking forward to this," said Jim Coulthard, the group's president and CEO.
Fred Frommer may be reached at ffrommer(at)ap.org.
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