While middle-class families are struggling to find ways to send their kids to college, Barack Obama signed an executive order giving prison inmates access to thousands of dollars each for higher education.
The order upends a 22-year-old law passed by Congress banning prisoners from receiving Pell Grants – essentially free money that can be used to pay for educational expenses.
(A side note: I received a $5,000 Pell Grant while I was in college. They’re not a loan. They’re a “grant” given to the student with no strings attached. I used the money to pay for my tuition, but I knew many students who used the money to buy a car or other things.)
Reforming the Justice system has been a priority for both parties in Washington. From reducing drug sentences to providing access to education while in prison are all on the table. But this bill diverts taxpayer dollars (up to $5,815 now) from middle-class families who may not qualify for any other financial aid to convicted felons.
When the Obama Administration announced the plan back in 2015, Republicans in Congress pushed back.
At the time, Republican Rep. Chris Collins, filed his own bill, the “Kids Before Cons Act,” which would study whether students enrolled at charter or private schools under a voucher program are less likely to end up in prison than children in traditional public schools. The idea behind the Collins bill: Reduce imprisonment on the front end, rather than spending money on the back end.
“The Obama administration’s plan to put the cost of a free college education for criminals on the backs of the taxpayers is consistent with their policy of rewarding lawbreakers while penalizing hardworking Americans,” Collins (R) of New York said, The Christian Science Monitor is reporting.
Congress stopped the funding of Pell Grants for prison inmates back in 1994. At the time, there were 25,168 inmates using the funding for college – about 1 percent of all grantees. But that was about $34.6 million that could go to struggling students who weren’t in prison.
If you’re wondering how Obama can sidestep Congress – again – with another executive order; this time it’s considered a “pilot program,” so it doesn’t need Congressional approval.
Letting prisoners go to college while they serve their time might be a good idea – even a noble one – but does anyone think there aren’t 25,168 students in this country more deserving of help paying for college than prison inmates?