REAL Act Would Restore Pell Grants for Incarcerated Students

On Tuesday, Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) re-introduced the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, a bill that would restore Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated students. Previously permitted in the Higher Education Act (HEA), a ban was instituted in 1994 and remains in place, although in 2015 the Department of Education (ED) began an Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI) to offer Pell Grants to incarcerated students, in which 65 institutions were chosen to participate.

The bill’s sponsors cite several studies that examine the benefits of offering Pell Grants to incarcerated students, including reducing recidivism, and saving taxpayer dollars.

Lawmakers’ positions on this issue have shifted in the 25 years since the ban was introduced by the Clinton administration as part of a broader federal crime package. Democrats have since mostly favored lifting the ban, and Republican backing has grown, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who opposed the 2015 ESI, indicating in February that the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee that he chairs would consider removing the ban when it looks to reauthorize HEA.

Bipartisan companion House legislation is said to be in the works.


Publication Date: 4/11/2019

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