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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

False Claim on Pell Grants in Indiana

A Democratic incumbent in Indiana falsely claims his Republican challenger wants to abolish the popular federal Pell Grant program for needy college students. Rep. Joe Donnelly, who is running for reelection in Indiana’s 2nd District, based his charge on a questionnaire Republican Jackie Walorski submitted to a conservative group. But that questionnaire doesn’t even mention the Pell Grant program. 


The ad, titled “College,” first aired Sept. 9. It begins ominously: “Who will help your family afford college?”


The announcer responds: “Jackie Walorski wants to eliminate Pell Grants. The program that helps thousands of Hoosier families pay for college. Walorski would even abolish the entire Department of Education.”

But the Donnelly campaign uses faulty logic to reach its conclusion. The campaign points to the second and third items on a questionnaire Walorski submitted to the Independence Caucus, a conservative group known as iCaucus. Both questions are about federal regulation in areas including education. On the third question, Walorski answered “yes,” when asked if she would “commit to oppose the expansion and/or perpetuation of any and all EXISTING federal legislation and regulations in areas that are not constitutionally enumerated; and are therefore reserved as the exclusive province of the states, such as Education, Energy, Welfare, Labor issues, Non-Interstate roads, farm subsidies etc.” She also answered yes on the second question, regarding "PROPOSED legislation."

Walorski’s vision of a smaller federal government may or may not include a federal Department of Education. Kristine Cassady, the executive director of iCaucus, told us in an e-mail that “the 2010 iCaucus questionnaire referred to in Mr. Donnelly’s recent television ad asks no questions regarding the Department of Education or Pell Grants.” That’s true about Pell Grants, but the questionnaire is broadly written and vague enough that Walorski’s views on abolishing the Department of Education are open to interpretation.

The Walorski campaign maintained that its candidate "has never said" that she wants to abolish the Department of Education. Still, she clearly has strong beliefs about what the Department of Education should and shouldn’t be doing. She gave a radio interview (begin at 2:10) to iCaucus, in which she said that “we don’t want the federal government coming in and mandating things … in areas like education, where the Constitution says … it’s the jobs of states to provide education.”

Even if Walorski wanted to eliminate the Department of Education — and there is no evidence of that — Donnelly jumps to a false conclusion that she would necessarily eliminate all the programs it currently administers.

In fact, question 38 of the questionnaire specifically asks about the future funding of "more than 240 education programs." It doesn’t mention abolishing the programs. Instead, it asks: "Do you commit to support legislation establishing a mandatory Sunset Clause in all spending legislation that provides for its expiration on a specified date unless it is deliberately renewed?" Walorski said yes.

So, Walorski has said she believes that it is good policy to set a "sunset" date by which education programs would expire unless reauthorized. Would she vote to renew Pell Grants? We don’t know, and neither does the Donnelly campaign.

In an e-mail to us, Matthew Kirby, Walorski’s campaign manager, said: "Walorski has never said she wants to eliminate Pell Grants or abolish DoE, but will consider freezing discretionary spending and support an audit to determine where cuts can be made."

–Michael Morse