Republican Governors Call to Expand Pell Grants to Prisoners, Short-Term Programs

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

A dozen Republican governors sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate committee tasked with reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA) last week, urging them to expand Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated students and students in short-term training programs.

The letter — spearheaded by Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana — was signed by Doug Ducey of Arizona, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Matt Bevin of Kentucky, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Phil Bryant of Mississippi, Mike Parson of Missouri, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, and Mark Gordon of Wyoming.

In addition to allowing prisoners and those in short-term programs to access Pell Grants, the governors urged Sens. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) to expand Pell eligibility to students in dual enrollment and adult education programs. 

“While many states have dedicated state resources to targeted populations to build their workforce capacity, expanding Pell eligibility would greatly expand those programs nationwide,” the governors wrote.

While incarcerated students were previously permitted to receive Pell Grants under the HEA, they were banned from doing so in 1994. In 2015, however, 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. In April, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that identified several challenges for schools participating in the ongoing Second Chance Pell pilot program, such as establishing eligibility and navigating verification for incarcerated individuals. 

A few days after the GAO report was released, 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. The bill’s sponsors cited several studies that examine the benefits of offering Pell Grants to incarcerated students, including reducing recidivism, and saving taxpayer dollars.

Alexander’s scaled-back proposal to reauthorize the HEA, which he released at the end of last month, would reserve the ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated students. However, his bill faces stiff opposition from Senate Democrats.


Publication Date: 10/7/2019

David S | 10/7/2019 11:10:04 AM

There are currently 131 different state aid programs in 26 states that bar at least one type of justice-involved student from receiving funding (could include currently incarcerated, prior convictions, drug test required, etc). Just so happens that some of the governors listed above, now encouraging Pell Grants for incarcerated students ,are from states that won't allow state aid to the same students. Perhaps they should look first at what lawmakers in their own states could change to support this concept.

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