[caption id="attachment_142851" align="aligncenter" width="4457"]President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Okla., Thursday, July 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Obama plans to circumvent Congress once more, this time to open up Pell Grants to federal prisoners on the taxpayers' dime.
The plan, which will be formally announced Friday, according to Inside Higher Ed, is to start a "limited pilot program" that would allow some incarcerated students the ability to apply for Pell Grants. The grants cover up to $5,775 a year in tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.
This designation allows the administration to bypass Congress because the Education Department then has the power under the Higher Education Act to temporarily waive certain requirements that would usually govern federal financial aid, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The Obama administration’s plan to open up Pell Grants to some incarcerated students, which will be announced formally on Friday, is already drawing criticism from some Republicans.
Congress explicitly cut most prisoners’ eligibility for Pell Grants in the mid-1990s. This was an effort led by Democrats and then-President Bill Clinton.
In 1993, the federal government spent more than $34 million on grants for inmates, the Washington Free Beacon noted. But since that time the prison population has swelled to roughly 1.6 million inmates and the cost would be significantly higher.
Some Republicans are pushing back and questioning the administration's authority to start the pilot program, Inside Higher Ed reported.
"How we ensure the long-term sustainability of the Pell Grant program needs to be a national conversation, and as part of that conversation, we should discuss whether this aid can help incarcerated individuals become productive members of society. Unfortunately, the administration has chosen once again to stifle an important debate by acting unilaterally and without regard for the law," Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who chairs the U.S. House education committee, said in a written statement.
"Right now, leaders in both the House and Senate are working to strengthen higher education by reforming the law. As I have said time and again, if the administration wants to see meaningful change take place, it must stop governing through executive fiat and start working with the people’s elected representatives in Congress."