The president recently unveiled his federal budget priorities for 2019 and one item was the gutting of the popular DC Tuition Assistance Grant program (DCTAG). This $40-million program is essential for many District residents to attend public universities across the country.
DCTAG was established because many of our families, including many in the middle class, just didn’t have the options that families outside the District had when the time came to search for higher education. Unlike most states, D.C. has no “in-state” tuition for residents because we have only one public university, the University of the District of Columbia.
This program provides up to $10,000 per applicant, helping to make up the difference in tuition costs at public universities. There was a time when this wasn’t even an option for our children. I have some serious concerns about the president’s desire to cut it entirely.
Page 96 of the president’s “An American Budget: Major Savings and Reforms” report lists a “justification” for zeroing out the grant:
While this program has helped many D.C. residents afford college, the financial position of the D.C. government has significantly improved since 1999 providing D.C. with flexibility to allocate local funds to support its residents. There are many Federal programs available to all Americans that help ensure continued college access.
The president suggests that the District is doing well (which it is) and we should be able to afford DCTAG. I don’t buy into this suggestion. The District doesn’t have an extra $40 million. Cutting this program would come at a tremendous cost to residents, either in higher tuition or in higher taxes.
These perennial budget conversations in Congress will often look at what programs can be cut, always negatively impacting District residents. In the greater context of the federal budget, DCTAG is a drop in the bucket, but the availability of these dollars makes a big difference in whether or not a large number of graduating high school seniors pursue higher education.
The District does a lot for the federal government. The federal government doesn’t pay any property taxes, we guard the president with minimal reimbursement for the expenses and D.C. residents pay taxes with no federal representation.
I’m optimistic that DCTAG will remain in the budget as Congress starts debating. It’s still important, however, for residents to speak up and make their voices heard to protect the program. If you have a moment, sign the mayor’s petition to save DCTAG at dcforms.dc.gov/webform/pledge-savedctag.
Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.