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Public Statements

District of Columbia College Access Act of 1999

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COLLEGE ACCESS ACT OF 1999 -- (Senate - September 18, 2007)


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, my reason for offering amendments is not in opposition to this bill's goal. I think the Senator from Ohio and the Senator from Hawaii know that. But there are two really blatant things wrong with this bill.

There is a limited amount of money. Everybody will agree we have allocated--it is going to be about $38 million this year that is going to go for this program. That is what the spend-out is going to be. Right now, 20 families who make over $1 million a year are taking an opportunity from 20 families who are below the poverty level. Twenty families right now with household income greater than $1 million a year are taking this program. Why would we have a program that says to the richest in this country that we are going to pay for their college education and we are going to do it on the backs of the poorest in this country? These 20 people who are in college today whose families make more than $1 million a year are stealing an opportunity from 20 kids. Nineteen percent of the District lives under the poverty level. So we are taking from them because we do not have an earnings test on this program.

I put in an amendment, which I am going to call up in a minute, because it is ridiculous to think that somebody earning $1 million a year cannot afford to pay for their kid's college.

But the amendment should have been at $300,000 or $400,000 a year, because when you extrapolate that number, you get 400 or 500 kids who are now taking the opportunity from kids who have no income or are living below the poverty level.

So the idea of helping people in the District and enticing people to come to the District to get an education is a great idea. There is not a thing wrong with this program. But it is very shortsighted to say we don't want to put an earnings test on something because it might change the program. The fact is the program is being changed by the wealthy taking advantage of it to the disadvantage of the kids who can't get this grant.

I read in the paper this morning that the House is going to object to a million-dollar-per-year earnings test on this program. Just do a little finger commonsense poll and talk to the American people. Do they think their taxpayer dollars ought to be spent on sending somebody to college whose parents make $1 million a year? The answer to that is a resounding ``no.'' So why would we have any resistance at all in the House or this body to putting an earnings limit at $1 million? It makes no sense.

The second problem with this bill is we have discriminated against historically Black, private, nonprofit universities because they are private: Morehouse State, Spelman College, Stillman College, Tuskegee. Yes, we will let you go if you are from Washington, DC, if you want to go to those, but we are only going to give you $2,500. We are not going to give you $10,000 because it is a private nonprofit. We are going to limit your ability to embrace your culture at one of the historically Black colleges because it happens to be a private, nonprofit university. We are going to say you can only have $2,500. And by the way, if you have a good reason that you might want to pursue a field of study that is not offered at one of the universities, the State publicly supported universities, but is offered at a private college, we are going to discriminate against you again. We are going to say we will give you $2,500.

What we are doing is we are putting a carrot out there and saying, you can't quite get to the carrot. You can't quite get to that carrot. Why would we
discriminate against private and nonprivate, if a child wants to seek a certain level of education that is not available anywhere except that? If we want opportunity for these kids, we ought to give them opportunity and we ought to let the choice be theirs. Let them choose where to go.

If they want to go into bioneurologic sciences, where can they get that? A private university. They can't get it at a public university. If they want to go into some other area that is not available to them in a public fashion, through a public university, we are going to say, yes, you can, but you get 75 percent less benefit than everybody else gets because you choose to go into a field of endeavor that may be highly sought after but it is not offered at a public university.

So the idea behind the bill is good. The goal of increasing what the chairman and ranking member wanted to do in terms of DC is right, it is right-headed, but if we were thinking about how do we help the most kids, we wouldn't let the first dollar go to parents making $500,000 a year or $300,000 a year. We would let it go to the kids, this 20 percent of the population who lives under the poverty level. That is where we would send the money.

What we are saying here is, in the namesake of not wanting to change and not allow the flexibility for more impoverished children to get that college education, we don't want to change. We don't want to allow a young African-American male to go to Morehouse College, because we are going to give him $7,500 less a year to go there than if he chose some other university. Why would we not want to enhance that culture for him?


Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that any pending amendment be set aside, and I call up amendment No. 2888 and ask for its immediate consideration.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Casey). The clerk will report.

The legislative clerk read as follows:

The Senator from Oklahoma [Mr. COBURN] proposes an amendment numbered 2888.

Mr. COBURN. I ask unanimous consent that the reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To prohibit the Federal Government from favoring public colleges and universities over private colleges and universities under the District of Columbia College Access Act of 1999)

At the end of the bill, add the following:


Section 6 of the District of Columbia College Access Act of 1999 (113 Stat. 1327; Public Law 106-98) is amended by adding at the end the following:

``(i) Non-Discrimination for Private School Students.--In awarding grants under this Act to eligible institutions, the Mayor shall pay amounts, on behalf of eligible students, that are equivalent regardless of whether the students attend a public or private eligible institution.''.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this is the amendment that says, let's don't discriminate against the private schools. Let us let the kids go where they want. Let us give them an equal shot at Morehouse, at Tuskegee, at Spelman, and Stillman. Let us let them have an equal shot to go there as well as everywhere else. We have decided you can't. We are going to make you more disadvantaged to go to someplace that is culturally better for you.

So I would ask reconsideration on the part of the chairman and the ranking member for this amendment. It makes sense, it is equal, and it treats every sought-after degree the same. We don't discriminate between private and public. It doesn't change where the restrictions are already. It doesn't say every private university in America can have it. What it says is, if we are going to hold this apple out in front of you and say here is your education, we are going to give you a fair shot whether you want to go to a private school or a public school that is on the list. We are going to treat you the same, and we are going to hope that no matter which one you attend that you finish that education and come back and become a productive citizen contributing to DC.

That is what this is about. It is not about expanding the realm of private universities. It is saying that if I choose to go to Morehouse State, I should get the same treatment as if I choose to go to Oklahoma State or Ohio State or the University of Hawaii. I get the same treatment. Don't give me part of an apple, give me the whole apple. Give me everything.


Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that amendment No. 2888 be set aside, and I call up amendment No. 2887.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report.

The legislative clerk read as follows:

The Senator from Oklahoma [Mr. Coburn] proposes an amendment numbered 2887.

Mr. COBURN. I ask unanimous consent that the reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To exempt millionaires from receiving educational scholarship funds intended for needy families)

At the end of the bill, add the following:


(a) In General.--Section 3(c)(2) of the District of Columbia College Access Act of 1999 (113 Stat. 1324; Public Law 106-98) is amended--

(1) in subparagraph (E), by striking ``and'' after the semicolon at the end;

(2) in subparagraph (F), by striking the period at the end and inserting ``; and''; and

(3) by adding at the end the following:

``(G) is from a family with a taxable annual income of less than $1,000,000.''.

(b) Conforming Amendment.--Section 5(c)(2) of the District of Columbia College Access Act of 1999 (113 Stat. 1328; Public Law 106-98) is amended by striking ``through (F)'' and inserting ``through (G)''.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this amendment says if you make $1 million a year, we shouldn't be paying for your kids to go to college. The rest of the American taxpayers shouldn't.

I am disappointed to hear from the House that when they get this, when we get to conference, they are not going to accept it. It is amazing to me that anybody in this country would think that the Federal Government--all of us collectively--ought to pay for their children's education. If we are going to do that, then let us pay for everybody's education across the country.

But that is not what this bill is about. This bill is about trying to direct funds to those kids who won't have an opportunity for college without these funds. And by giving those funds to the well-to-do families who do not need or require our help to send their children to college, we are stealing opportunity from those kids. There is a limited amount of money. Everybody knows that. There is a limited pie here. And for those 20 times 50,000, that $1 million is not going to be spent on somebody living below the poverty level wanting to get out and wanting to move up.

I understand it is the chairman and ranking member's opinion that they will accept this amendment, so I graciously thank them for that, and my hope is you would hold this as we discuss this with the House. It is ludicrous to take this away from people who don't have means.

Mr. President, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. COBURN. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. VOINOVICH. I am glad to yield.

Mr. COBURN. Do the people of upper income in Ohio pay higher taxes in the State of Ohio?

Mr. VOINOVICH. Yes, and I am sure the people in the District of Columbia are paying higher income taxes to the United States of America.

Mr. COBURN. So the people of Ohio, who send their children to Ohio State, even though they pay in-State tuition, actually pay more for that college because they pay a much higher percentage of the State budget and the State of Ohio, similar to the State of Oklahoma, has decided that with that increased income, we will grant everybody. But it doesn't cost the same. So the argument is, in terms of the difference in incomes: Those people who make exceptional incomes in Ohio and Oklahoma actually pay more for their kids to go to college in their States because they pay a much higher percentage of the total income taxes in the State.

The second point is I think the Senator is right. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This is one of the rare programs that ought to be expanded, but we have terrible priorities in this Senate and in this Government. So we will not take another $10 million to make sure more kids go and get rid of some duplicitous earmark somewhere that is a favor for some politician somewhere so we can, in fact, enhance it.

This is a very straightforward amendment. It says why would you discriminate against somebody who wants to go to a private college over a public college? That is what we are doing. The answer is because we don't have enough money. That is the answer. The answer is we do not have enough money, so therefore, if we give the same amount of scholarship to private schools as we give to public, we would not have enough money for 886 people who are getting a full boat now.

The answer to that is here is a program that is working, here is where we ought to have priorities, here is where we ought to be putting more money rather than less. But the answer, our closed-minded answer in Washington is: That is all the money we have. Even though this is working and a lot of other programs are not working, we are not going to defund those programs that are not working. We are not going to measure with a metric whether they are effective. We are going to let them go. Here is a good program that is making a difference in people's lives, and we are not going to go fight for more money.

To me, that says it all about where we are in Washington today.

Mr. VOINOVICH. Mr. President, I would like to say--and I am pleased the junior Senator from Oklahoma is talking about a Federal program where he wants to see more money spent. I think that is terrific. The fact is, he does agree this is a very special program. I would like to point out so do the appropriators, because year after year, they have provided more money for this program.


Mr. AKAKA. Mr. President, reclaiming my time, I wish to echo the remarks of my good friend and ranking member, Senator Voinovich. Senator Coburn's amendment threatens to reduce the number of participants in the program by nearly 1,000 students and would increase the costs of the program by more than $5 million.

Furthermore, it conflicts with the intent of the legislation. Because of the high number of private schools in the District, Congress allowed students who chose to stay close to home a greater range of options, similar to a State school program. However, it was never intended to supplement the private education to the same degree as public education.

Once again, I urge my colleagues to vote against his amendment and in support of the underlying bill.

At this time, I yield the floor and reserve the remainder of my time.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oklahoma.

Mr. COBURN. I will finish up with this. I thank the Senators for their debate and points of view.

The reason the average is $6,500 is because you only give $2,500 to the private. If you took all the private schools out, the average would be $10,000. That is what you get. So to play the game with numbers is not accurate because when you filter in the $2,500, you get that average of $6,500.

I would make the point again, you, in fact, are discriminating against a young DC minority child who says I want to go to Morehouse State, and I want to major in X at Morehouse State. I know heroes of mine who went to Morehouse State.

Under this bill, you say you can't do that. They may be bright, but $2,500 compared to that education, versus $10,000 in public, doesn't begin to accomplish the level of financing and scholarships--it will be next to impossible. I ask you to reconsider. The intent of what you are trying to do--we can, in fact, appropriate more money for this. If I and George Voinovich and Danny Akaka go for a spending increase on an appropriations bill, that will make history in the Senate. That would make history. We could do that. We could find the money to do that.

The point is, why should we take away opportunity? Why should we be the parlayers of somebody's lost opportunity? We ought to give it to all, it ought to be equally based and ought to be based on their aspirations, their hopes for what they want to do. We should not artificially say because you want to go here, this is all the opportunity you get. But if you want to go somewhere that doesn't excite you, doesn't stimulate you, isn't going to give you as good an education, we will give you more money.

I think that is inherently wrong and disadvantageous to the very people we are trying to help. Not only should we want them to get the education, we should want them to get the best education, so they can be the best that they can be.

I will yield the floor.

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