Senate panel rejects proposed cut to Fulbright scholar program


WASHINGTON — The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday rejected President Obama’s proposal to cut $30 million from the Fulbright Scholar Program, approving instead a slight increase for the foreign exchange program in the next fiscal year.

The committee approved a $48.3 billion foreign aid and State Department spending bill that includes $236 million for the program that was conceived by Arkansas statesman Sen. J. William Fulbright.

President Obama’s budget request for the 2015 fiscal year called for a $30 million reduction from the current budget of $234.6 million.

“This is a huge victory for the venerable Fulbright Program,” said Delta Grassroots Caucus Director Lee Powell, who is author of “J. William Fulbright and his Time.”

In the aftermath of World War II, Fulbright and President Harry S. Truman worked together to create the scholar exchange program. Powell said that over the years it has promoted education in the Delta and across the globe.

Powell gave credit to Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., who serve on the appropriations panel, for pushing for the additional funding.

“Not only was the president’s proposed cut rejected, but the bill’s language is nothing short of a full endorsement of the program’s contributions. It is a very well-respected program and we have every intention of continuing it despite these very tough budget times,” Boozman said.

The bill states that it does not support the $30.4 million reduction and directs Secretary of State John Kerry to broaden participation in these programs to individuals from rural and impoverished communities as well as minorities.

That underlying State and Foreign Operations bill was approved 25-5 in committee. Boozman and Pryor supported it.

A key provision in the bill was a $400 million reduction to aid to Egypt. Proponents of the cut said it was done to signal the Egyptian government to speed judicial reforms there.

The Fulbright Program, which is overseen the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, helps students and teachers who conduct research abroad and brings foreign scholars to the United States. About 8,000 grants are awarded with about 2,800 U.S. students and scholars sent overseas and 4,900 foreign students and scholars brought here.

Fulbright, a former Rhodes Scholar, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1944 and succeeded in establishing his namesake program two years later as a way to strengthen U.S. ties with other nations through a scholarly exchange.

Fulbright went on to serve in the U.S. Senate until 1974 and was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the final 15 years he was in office. At his funeral service in 1995, President Clinton cited the Fulbright Scholarship Program as “a perfect example of Fulbright’s faith – different kinds of people learning side by side, building what he called ‘a capacity for empathy, a distaste for killing other men and an inclination for peace.’”