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Student aid bill prompts hastily planned rallies

Update, 3:15 p.m.:

Rich Williams, higher education associate at U.S. PIRG, wrote in to tell me what students have been doing behind the scenes in the past few days, "working to shore up actual votes" on the student aid legislation. "Sure, it is fun to see students come together and rally -- but we are being strategic in key districts to win votes," he said in an e-mail.

Williams said PIRG chapters in California, Arizona, Washington (State) and Massachusetts have mobilized to flood legislators' offices with phone calls and hold "guerilla lobbying" meetings with Democratic lawmakers who have balked at supporting the legislation, including California Senator Dianne Feinstein, Arizona Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, Washington Representative Brian Baird and Massachusetts Representative Michael Capuano.

(Further update: A spokesman for Kirkpatrick called in to say that she plans to vote for the bill, and that she made the decision independent of student lobbying.)

Original post follows.

Student activists have been waiting for a chance to rally behind the student aid bill. They problem was they lacked a bill.

That changed yesterday.

According to my colleague Nick Anderson, the bill would pump $36 billion into Pell grants over 10 years, raising the annual award to $5,975 by 2017 from the current $5,550, with the grant linked for the first time to increases in the consumer price index.

The bill would also deliver $2 billion to community colleges and $2.55 billion to historically black colleges and universities and institutions that serve minorities, and would reduce the deficit by $10 billion.

The money comes from cutting banks out of the government's student loan business. The government has been paying subsidies to banks to lend money to students. It's cheaper for the government to lend the money directly.

Now: the rallies.

The biggest event, at 11:30 this morning, isn't technically about student aid. President Obama will speak at George Mason University -- about health care reform, an endeavor that has been linked with student loan reform in a single bill. It's hard to imagine he won't at least mention student loans in a room full of students. The organization Campus Progress mobilized students to attend in support of either cause.

No word has reached my desk of any massive student rally between now and Sunday, the date now eyed for a likely House vote on the student aid bill.

But the bill will be a central focus of the United States Student Association's 41st Annual Legislative Conference and National Student Lobby Day, which begins tomorrow at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel.

The marquee event appears to be scheduled for Tuesday - - two days after the expected vote. Five hundred students will march from L'Enfant to Capitol Hill. Presumably, they will direct their voices to the Senate, which takes up the bill after the House.

Anyone who has followed the bill will know that it is somewhat diminished. An earlier iteration generated enough savings to raise Pell to $6,900, and to tie future increases to inflation at a more favorable rate. Part of the reason is that colleges have already begun switching over to direct government lending, moving some of the savings from potential to realized. Also, saving Pell has proved more costly.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  March 19, 2010; 9:49 AM ET
Categories:  Access , Aid , Finance , Public policy  | Tags: public policy, student aid, student rallies  
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This bill was discussed Friday on PBS News Hour. It seems like a no-brainer to cut out the middle man and give more funds to the students. A Sallie Mae spokesperson was emotional in protesting that jobs would be lost, but it was correctly countered that the object is to assist students, not to provide jobs.

Posted by: bettina2 | March 21, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

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