WASHINGTON -- Less than 12 hours after President Barack Obama touted an idea to provide free community college to some students, the chairman of the House Education Committee had a message: No new federal programs.

Republican Rep. John Kline, who represents Minnesota's Second Congressional District and is at the helm of the Education Committee, said he wasn't interested in taking on the president's proposal to make community college free. Kline said he didn't agree with the how the White House planned to pay for it -- by increasing capital gains taxes -- and he didn't think a new federal program was the way to move forward.

In his annual address to both chambers of Congress, Obama proposed free community colleges to students on track to graduate and who had good grades. He said higher education was in the nation's interest and helped strengthen the middle class.

"Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy without a load of debt," Obama said.

But Kline noted existing Pell grants and federal financial aid packages were available for low-income students. In Minnesota, 130,048 people were undergraduates at community and technical colleges. Of those 63 percent sought financial aid and about 35 percent were eligible for Pell grants. The average community college tuition in Minnesota is $5,370 a year.

Kline called the idea too lofty and rhetorically questioned why the president stopped at community colleges. "Why not say all college is free?" he said, in a press gathering in his office Wednesday morning.

Kline said his first priority is getting a No Child Left Behind overhaul to the House floor within the next eight weeks. He said he is optimistic, with a Republican-controlled Senate this time, that they could find common ground and send a bill to President Obama this year.

The chairman also noted he wants to reauthorize the higher education act, but that "we can't just create a new program that we can't pay for."

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