WASHINGTON - An Oklahoma senator wants to exclude wealthy families from a federal program that helps pay the tuition of D.C. students who attend certain public colleges and universities outside of the city.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a fiscal conservative, will introduce legislation Tuesday that would limit the D.C. Tuition Assistance Program to families earning under $1 million annually.
The provision will be attached to a bill that would extend the tuition program another five years. Funding for it expires Sept. 30.
There is currently no income cap for participants in the program, which provides D.C. residents up to $10,000 per year to attend public colleges and universities outside of the District, which lacks a competitive university system.
The purpose of the legislation, Coburn said, is to ensure that the $35 million in federal funds that would be allotted next year for the program is reserved for the neediest families.
“Every wealthy child that enrolls reduces the opportunity for lower-income families,” Coburn spokesman John Hart said.
The District’s nonvoting delegate, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, said she is opposed to the amendment and does not believe it will pass.
Norton also opposes a second amendment Coburn will introduce, which would increase the tuition grants to District residents who attend regional or historically black private colleges and universities. The annual tuition cap for those schools is $2,500. Coburn wants to increase it to $10,000, saying the current cap “is a financial penalty” on District students who want a private education.
“That amendment is a poison pill obviously meant to kill the bill,” Norton said.
The tuition assistance program was created in 1999 and has provided money for 11,000 students, the majority of them from low-income families.
District officials credit the program with increasing the rate of college attendance among city residents. Instituting an income cap, they said, would require setting up a program to monitor the earnings of participants.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on the extension of the program Tuesday, clearing it for the president’s signature.