White House officials held a conference call yesterday to discuss the potential effects of President Barack Obama’s proposed 2012 budget on the education sector.

White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes and Office of Public Engagement Associate Director Kalpen Modi highlighted various aspects of the budget, including its recommendation to maintain the maximum Pell Grant award of $5,550. According to USA Today, Obama’s proposed budget would cut the 2008 deficit he inherited in half while increasing the U.S. Dept. of Education’s overall budget by 4.3 percent.

Although maintaining the maximum Pell Grant award is an admirable priority, Barnes said it would require cutting programs such as the year-round Pell Grant that, unlike the general Pell Grant, allows students to receive two grants in one calendar year. The latter policy is meant to encourage timely graduation. Because the budget cannot stretch to cover both types of aid, one award must be compromised to preserve the other.

“This approach ensures that we will have fully funded growth in the Pell Grant over the next decade,” Barnes said. “We must make cuts to account for this growth. In order to make investments to education, we also believe we’ve got to function within our means. We need to tighten our belts and take responsibility of our deficits.”

The budget would also eliminate programs such as the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program and Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program, which provides supports for states to promote awarding need-based financial aid, to sustain other forms of aid like the Federal Perkins Loan — a public alternative that allows almost three million students annually to forgo investing in costly private student loans.           

According to Modi, the proposed budget combines a number of innovative measures to improve the public education system.

“This plan is groundbreaking — it takes a scalpel to the federal budget to make adjustments to better serve Americans,” Modi said.

The budget also recommends an extension of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which offers partially tax-deductible grants to qualifying students and lowers student loan interest rates, for an additional two years.

Furthermore, the budget proposes the College Completion Incentive Grants program, which would award performance-based grants to states that match high school graduation requirements with university entry standards. The initiative is an effort to meet Obama’s goal of generating the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

“We will have a future in which we are globally competitive instead of globally stagnant,” Barnes said. “If we are going to ‘win the future,’ we need to make critical investments.”