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New Congressional Caucus Champions HBCUs

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Representative Alma Adams (D-N.C.), shown here, partnered with Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) to launch the Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus. (Courtesy Photo)

Representative Alma Adams (D-N.C.), shown here, partnered with Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) to launch the Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus. (Courtesy Photo)

By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A little help may be on the way for historically Black colleges and universities struggling against falling financial support and an increasingly skeptical public.

The Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus was launched last week, with Congressional members Representatives Alma Adams (D-N.C.) and Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) at the helm. Its 45 members and counting are charged with safeguarding the interests of historically Black colleges and universities, supporting students and graduates; creating a national dialogue; and educating other members of Congress on the value of these institutions.

“This bipartisan HBCU Caucus is bringing together champions for HBCUs, so that we can make an even bigger impact to ensure their needs are heard in every aspect of policy making and across party lines,” said Rep. Adams, creator and co-chair of the caucus, alumna of North Carolina A&T State University, and former administrator at her alma mater and Bennett College, both in Greensboro, N.C.

“[HBCUs] do what no other schools do for students like me, a poor Black girl from Newark, New Jersey who came to North Carolina – wasn’t fully prepared – but yet North Carolina took me in, got me prepared, and I was able to do what I’m doing right now.”

The caucus comes at a time when HBCUs are facing a barrage of challenges. In 2011, Congress put more funding toward need-based Pell grants, but lowered the cap to 12 semesters (or six school years) instead of the previous 18. Non-traditional students, such as parents, veterans, and people beyond their early 20s, as well as low-income students who work part-time, often have complicated circumstances that make it difficult to go straight through four years of school full time. For such students, it can take several years to earn a degree.

“Many of our young people really do have to work…to pay for education. So a large majority of students we serve at our HBCUs in particular are on financial aid – several types of financial aid,” said Rep. Adams at a launch event for the Caucus. “We talk about access and affordability. You don’t have access if you don’t have the check to go with it.”

The same year, federal parent PLUS loan requirements were changed in an effort to keep financially burdened families from taking on more debt. The changes went into effect almost immediately, and thousands of previously approved parents were abruptly denied for a renewal. As a result thousands of students – largely Black, low-income, and first-generation – were forced to pause or delay their college educations. According to data from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, enrollment at HBCUs fell 3.4 percent for fall 2012. The number of students with PLUS loans fell 46 percent, and HBCUs saw a 36 percent decrease in the awarded dollar amounts. That meant fewer students able to continue college, and less revenue for the schools.

The Obama administration has corrected this oversight, but the damage has been done.

“Our parents spend much more money on educating their children than White families do. That’s just a fact, if you look at percentage of income,” said caucus member Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) at the same event. “We’re talking about good students who need an opportunity, who need to go into an environment that’s nurturing. So we are going to have to fight for these HBCUs.”

There is also less aid available for institutions. According to a 2014 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state schools now rely on students fees and tuition for 48 percent of their revenues, compared to 24 percent in 1988. Of the nation’s 105 HBCUs, nearly half are state schools. Meanwhile, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, and Delaware were all caught withholding state funds specifically from their HBCUs.

The Department of Education shells out roughly $300 million for Black schools each year. But this funding, like all federal money, can change without warning from year to year. Howard University, for example, is a private school, but has historically had its own line in the budget that serves as a critical source of funding. In 2012, this funding was cut by more than $12 million, and has remained at that amount each year since.

The Obama administration has attempted to work around the financial squeeze by awarding of grants and contracts to HBCUs through the White House Initiative on HBCUs, but some reports state that the amount of these awards is also on the decline.

President Obama’s America’s College Promise comes on the heels of these blows. The proposal offers the first two years of community college free for students who attend consistently and at least part-time, and maintain a 2.5 GPA. However, HBCUs and community colleges have always competed for non-traditional students, as well as students who need extra instruction or assistance to get acclimated and succeed in college. With this proposal and slim chances for HBCUs to match the offer, community colleges may be a more attractive choice.

“Anybody that tells you that these schools aren’t needed, ask them what is happening on the other end of the spectrum, when we are getting rid of affirmative action admissions policies, we’re getting rid of various formulae that’s used to fund schools, and then you want to close down HBCUs,” said Rep. Clyburn. “It means we are on track to creating a permanent underclass in this country.”

Despite these challenges, HBCUs still manage to produce crucial results.

Despite serving just 3 percent of the nation’s college students, the 107 HBCUs graduate nearly 20 percent of African Americans who earn undergraduate degrees and more than 50 percent of African American professionals and public school teachers.

“HBCUs have long been an important part of our nation’s higher education system,” said Rep. Byrne, co-chair of the caucus. “HBCUs deal with many of the same challenges as other higher education institutions, but they also face unique obstacles that demand special attention. Our nation’s HBCUs are evolving as they adapt to a changing workforce, and through this caucus, I look forward to helping guide the conversation about how we can best support our nation’s HBCUs.”

Follow Jazelle Hunt on Twitter at @JazelleAH.

Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee Applauds 2nd Round of Workforce Funding from COVID Community Care Act Legislation

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) applauded the announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be awarding $121 million to 127 award recipients of the Local Community-Based Workforce to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Access Program.

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Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) applauded the announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be awarding $121 million to 127 award recipients of the Local Community-Based Workforce to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Access Program.

Announced on July 27, these awards are funded with resources from provisions within the American Rescue Plan Act that Lee led through her COVID Community Care Act.  This reflects the second of two funding opportunities announced in May 2021 for community-based efforts to hire and mobilize community outreach workers, community health workers, social support specialists, and others to increase vaccine access for the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities through high-touch, on-the-ground outreach to educate and assist individuals in getting the information they need about vaccinations.

The first round of funding, which was administered in June, included an $11 million award to the Public Health Institute in Oakland and a $9.5 million award to the Association of Asian/Pacific Community Health Organizations in Berkeley. Three Oakland based organizations, the Public Health Institute, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases, and Safe Passages, are recipients of this round of funding, bringing the total funding brought to organizations in CA-13 to nearly $23 million.

“We are facing another inflection point in this pandemic. We must make meaningful investments in getting everyone vaccinated—especially communities of color and medically underserved communities,” said Lee.  “I worked hard in Congress to invest in trusted messengers at the community level to build confidence in vaccines and COVID-19 prevention efforts. This is a much-needed continuation of that work, and we’ll see over a million dollars of investment on the ground in our own East Bay community.

“Our Tri-Caucus – the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Native American member Congresswoman Sharice Davids, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone, Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott and Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro deserve credit for their hard work and support in getting this across the finish line in the American Rescue Plan.  We can see that the work of House Democrats is making a real-life impact on the ground for communities.  This is an important step, but we must continue our work to dismantle systemic racism in our public health system and ensure that vaccines are equitably and adequately distributed.”

The purpose of this program is to establish, expand, and sustain a public health workforce to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19.  This includes mobilizing community outreach workers, which includes community health workers, patient navigators, and social support specialists to educate and assist individuals in accessing and receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.  

This includes activities such as conducting face-to-face outreach and reaching out directly to community members to educate them about the vaccine, assisting individuals in making a vaccine appointment, providing resources to find convenient vaccine locations, assisting individuals with transportation or other needs to get to a vaccination site.

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Community

Congratulations to Michelle Mack

Nominated for Teacher of the Year

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Photo courtesy Michelle Mack

Congratulations to Michelle Mack, currently a pre-K lead teacher in Atlanta, Ga., who was nominated for Teacher of the Year. A 2008 graduate of St. Elizabeth’s High School who earned a degree in child psychology from San Francisco State University in 2012, Mack received her master’s from Clark University in 2015.

Mack was recognized by the Easter Seals of North Georgia (ESNG) for “serving five consistent years teaching children and helping families with the same company” and awarded the ESNG-Guice Center Award for Individual Excellence.

 

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Commentary

Whitewashing History and Suppressing Voters Go Hand in Hand 

There’s been a lot of news about the Democratic legislators in Texas who fled the state to prevent Republicans from pushing through sweeping new voter suppression laws. Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to have them arrested to force them to attend a special session of the state Legislature.

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Element5 Digital on Unsplash

There’s been a lot of news about the Democratic legislators in Texas who fled the state to prevent Republicans from pushing through sweeping new voter suppression laws. Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to have them arrested to force them to attend a special session of the state Legislature.

Now it turns out that voter suppression is not the only “special” project Abbott has in mind. He and his fellow Republicans are pushing a far-reaching “memory law” that would limit teaching about racism and civil rights.

Abbott already signed a bill last month restricting how racism can be taught in Texas schools. But he and other Republicans in the state don’t think it went far enough. The Republican-dominated state-Senate has voted to strip a requirement that white supremacy be taught as morally wrong. Also on the chopping block: requirements that students learn about civil rights activists Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

It’s not just Texas. Just as Republicans are pushing a wave of voter registration laws around the country, they are also pushing laws to restrict teaching about racism in our history, culture, and institutions. CNN’s Julian Zelizer recently noted that such laws downplay injustices in our history and lead to teaching “propaganda rather than history.”

Here’s a good example:  Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the new legislation is meant to keep students from being “indoctrinated” by the “ridiculous leftist narrative that America and our Constitution are rooted in racism.” If Patrick really believes it is a “ridiculous” idea that racism was embedded in our Constitution from the start, he has already put on his own ideological blinders. And he wants to force them onto teachers and students.

Some of these state memory laws specifically ban teaching that causes “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.” As educators have noted, that’s a recipe for erasing and whitewashing history.

“Teachers in high schools cannot exclude the possibility that the history of slavery, lynchings and voter suppression will make some non-Black students uncomfortable,” history professor Timothy Snyder wrote in the New York Times Magazine. Those laws give power to white students and parents to censor honest teaching of history. “It is not exactly unusual for white people in America to express the view that they are being treated unfairly; now such an opinion could bring history classes to a halt.”

Snyder also explained how new state “memory laws” are connected to voter suppression. “In most cases, the new American memory laws have been passed by state legislatures that, in the same session, have passed laws designed to make voting more difficult,” he wrote. “The memory management enables the voter suppression.”

“The history of denying Black people the vote is shameful,” he explained. “This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to protect young people from feeling shame. The history of denying Black people the vote involves law and society. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to tell students that racism is only personal prejudice.”

As I wrote in The Nation, far-right attempts to suppress honest teaching about racism is meant to “convince a segment of white voters that they should fear and fight our emerging multiracial and multiethnic democratic society” and to “help far-right politicians take and hold power, no matter the cost to our democracy.”

That’s also what voter suppression bills are designed to do. We cannot tolerate either of these assaults on democracy.

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