WASHINGTON — A House-passed student aid bill would make Maine’s community colleges eligible for nearly $6 million for repairs and new facilities.
An amendment that Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, successfully offered to the bill on Thursday would let Maine’s community colleges, which have received about $7.7 million in federal stimulus money, apply for about $5.9 million in additional aid.
Pingree called the ineligibility of those community colleges in the bill’s original language an oversight.
“Obviously [the community colleges] had no idea [when they applied for recovery funds] that there was a future bill they couldn’t participate in,” Pingree said. “I didn’t want to see them cut out from funding possibility in the bill.”
About 15,000 students attend Maine’s seven community colleges, said Helen Pelletier, director of public affairs for the Maine Community College System.
“We are seeing unprecedented demand for our programs and enormous pressure on our colleges and their facilities,” Pelletier said. “This additional funding couldn’t come at a better time.”
The legislation, which the House approved 253-171 on Thursday, would increase federal aid to college students, make all federal student loans directly instead of through private lenders, and increase federal aid to public elementary and secondary schools nationwide.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, also voted for the bill.
The bill, which would provide $4 billion in grants for K-12 schools, sets aside 5 percent, or $200 million, of that money specifically for schools in areas hit hard by the recession or natural disasters.
A second Pingree amendment to the bill would let school districts affected by base closure apply for a share of the money. The Brunswick Naval Air Base is set to close completely by 2011, as mandated by the Defense Department’s 2005 Base Realignment and Closure initiative.
According to a statement by Pingree’s office, the base’s closing will reduce the Brunswick public school population by 10 percent, leading to a $1 million reduction in the schools’ government financial aid.
Maine state Rep. Alexander Cornell du Houx, D-Brunswick, said that the amendment was “very important for the future of Brunswick and the school system, especially considering the closure of the base.”
Du Houx said the base’s eventual closure will lead to the loss of 5,000 jobs, but he added that he hoped it would have a positive net impact on the area’s economy, saying that after coming up with new uses for the base, as many as 10,000 jobs could be created in the area.