Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

DCTAG, Promise Act Fund Local Students Futures

Since the creation of the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program in 1999, the D.C. government has prioritized providing access to a wide range of higher education options to D.C. youth; however, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has recently raised concerns about possible conflicts between two specific tuition assistance programs for D.C. students that could lead to potential defunding of the federal program she helped put in place.

D.C. TAG provides grants of up to $10,000 to cover the  the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at public colleges and universities throughout the U.S., as well as up to $2,500 per academic year toward tuition at private colleges in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area, private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) nationwide and two-year colleges nationwide.

According to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the D.C. TAG program has helped District students to attend over 300 colleges and universities across the country, and its current federal funding level is $30 million per year.

However, Norton has recently said that the D.C. Promise Act — a recent proposal passed by the D.C. Council authored by mayoral candidate and Chairman of the Council’s Education Committee David Catania (SFS ’90, LAW ’93) (I-At Large) — could put the program at risk. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has expressed support for the bill, which would provide the city’s low-income high school graduates with up to $7,500 per year for college, and it will need his signature to become law in addition to funding in the city’s budget.

“Upon learning of the Promise bill, congressional appropriators warned that if it appears the city can fund its own college access program, future funding for D.C. TAG would be at risk,” Norton said in a February statement following the Council’s passage of the bill.

Catania, joined by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, wrote a letter to Norton before the passage of the bill stating the differences between the D.C. Promise program and the TAG program.

The Promise program specifically targets low-income families, does not provide assistance for tuition at Historically Black Colleges and Universities nor universities within the District of Columbia, and costs significantly less than the TAG program.

The letter goes on to say that the demand for tuition assistance among District students far exceeds what even the TAG program and Promise program can cover, but that the Promise program indicates progress in providing necessary aid to the families that need the help the most.

“There is a demand, as you have acknowledged, far beyond what both D.C. TAG and D.C. Promise will fund. D.C. Promise targets low income students beyond what is available through federal funding, yet does so in a way that is clearly distinguished from the existing D.C. TAG program and at a lesser cost,” the letter said.

Brendan Williams-Kief, Committee Director for Catania, pointed out that no congressional appropriators have contacted the Councilmember’s office to raise concerns about the Promise bill’s funding, and emphasized the need for the bill as college tuition rates continue to rise across the country.

“The Promise bill has always been a way to support, not supplant, D.C. TAG,” Williams-Kief said. “The Councilmember was very proactive about reaching out to appropriators on the Hill, including the chair’s office, throughout the process. Although there have been claims that appropriators are skeptical or concerned about this, they have not to our ability been able to specify a single one that would express such a concern to us.”

Williams-Kief went on to say that while D.C. TAG has helped families across the District with the barrier of college affordability, the District still maintains a distinct disadvantage compared to states across the country that the program simply can’t eliminate.

“D.C. TAG was initially conceived to make up for the fact that the District does not have a robust state university system like every state in the country. We have UDC (University of the District of Columbia), but that is not the same as having the University of Michigan, it’s not the same as having the University of Virginia, it’s not the same as having Penn State,” Williams-Kief said. “D.C. TAG was created to bridge that difference, but with the increasing costs it simply doesn’t, so I would think the D.C. Promise would be seen by folks on the Hill as us taking responsibility.”

While Holmes Norton’s office could not be reach for comment, the congressman has maintained that she will fight any attempts to reduce funding for the D.C. TAG program despite the perceived doubts of congressional appropriators.

“I will fight to save D.C. TAG if it is threatened with the loss of all or any part of its funding.  If D.C. residents lose D.C. TAG funding for now or in the future, I know that they will hold the Council accountable to replace whatever funds are lost,” Holmes Norton said in a statement.

Williams-Kief also noted that although it will no doubt face intense opposition from Republicans in Congress, President Obama’s budget includes a significant increase in funding for the D.C. TAG program.

“The President included not a reduction for D.C. TAG in his recently released budget, but in fact a $10 million enhancement to fund it to $40 million a year,” Williams-Kief said.

The bill promises to be a hot topic of conversation as Catania continues his campaign against Democratic nominee for D.C. mayor, Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who has emphasized a revamping of the city’s middle schools as the key tenant of her education policy.


The Office of the State Superintendent of Education declined to comment.

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