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Democrats Raise Stakes in Education Debate

Democrats Raise Stakes in Education Debate
Educating minority students from underserved communities tops agenda

Increasing federal support across the education spectrum — from dropout prevention to teacher preparation at Black colleges — is the aim of a new package of aid touted by Democrats and Congressional Black Caucus members.
“The Democratic Party has sent a clear signal to members of the House and Senate: Educating minority students from underserved communities is at the top of our agenda,” says Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., a caucus member and co-sponsor of the legislation, which has attracted more than 100 endorsements.
The plan includes $30 million for a new program to strengthen teacher preparation programs at minority-serving colleges and universities, including historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges. The provision would create new Collaborative Centers of Excellence in Preparation for Teaching and increase the use of technology in teacher training activities.
More action is needed on this issue, sponsors say, since persons of color represent only 13 percent of all teachers. At the same time, experts say the nation will need an extra 2 million teachers to deal with staff retirements and student enrollment increases.
HBCUs also would benefit from a new $60 million annual fund to promote historic preservation at these institutions (see Black Issues, July 20, 2000). More than 700 properties at HBCUs are on the National Register of Historic Places, “but these facilities require $755 million in repairs,” the proposal states. The new fund would target the most dilapidated facilities, sponsors say.
Another provision friendly to minority-serving institutions is a $250 million initiative to address technology needs. “Studies show that minority-serving institutions face a serious ‘digital divide’ in providing student Internet access,” the proposal states. To deal with this problem, the new funding would help wire campuses, purchase equipment and train educators and students in the use of technology.
This support comes on top of previously-announced plans to increase support for minority-serving colleges. Within three years, support for HBCUs would increase to $460 million, including $370 million for undergraduate and $90 million for graduate programs — a doubling of the current federal investment. HSIs would get $140 million and tribal colleges $45 million under this proposal.
Following are other highlights of the proposal, called the 21st Century Higher Education Initiative:
l  Engineering: The plan would increase funding from $8 million to $40 million for a small minority science and engineering program.
l  Work-study: This program would get an extra $300 million over three years to provide more aid to needy students and promote responsibility and work skills.
l  TRIO and GEAR UP: These college access and retention programs would more than double in size, with TRIO getting $1.5 billion and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduates  Programs (GEAR UP) $690 million within three years.
l  Dropout prevention: A $250 million program would help high schools reduce class sizes, improve counseling and remedial efforts, and upgrade professional development for teachers.
l  Advanced Placement: The plan has a goal that every high school offer AP classes within three years. Lawmakers would support the goal by expanding aid to pay test fees for low-income students and help schools invest in AP curricula and teacher training.
l  College remedial programs: There is a $10 million demonstration program to help high-school dropouts go back to school and then attend college through partnerships among high schools, two-year colleges and four-year institutions.
l College transfer policies: Lawmakers are
offering $40 million to promote articulation agreements between two- and four-year colleges, so that students can move from associate’s degree to bachelor’s degree programs.
  l College grants: The proposal would set the maximum Pell Grant at $7,000, nearly double its current amount. It also has $300 million to increase federal supplemental education grants over three years.
House Republicans said they welcomed the proposal but stopped short of offering an endorsement. “We welcome their ideas and input,” says Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. But he also says  House Republicans “have taken the lead in helping minority-serving schools in the past five years,” pushing through significant funding increases.
Also, President Bush has a mixture of small increases, some funding freezes and a few projected cutbacks for colleges and universities in his first complete education budget.
As expected, the budget includes a small gain for minority-serving institutions. Funding for HBCUs would increase by $12 million, to $197 million, while HBCU graduate institutions would get a $3 million increase to $48 million.
Hispanic-serving institutions would get an extra $4 million, for a total $72 million next year. But tribal colleges would see their funding unchanged at $15 million. All of these levels are below increases sought by congressional Democrats in their 21st Century Higher Education Initiative.
Bush also wants to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $100, to $3,850 next year. Last year, Congress approved a $450 gain for the top grant.
The budget is a mixed bag for college access programs. Federal TRIO activities would receive a $50 million increase, to $780 million, under the new budget. But this gain would be more than offset by cuts in GEAR UP, which would have its funding reduced from $295 million to $227 million. The White House would not fund any new grants, and its plan would cut funds for existing GEAR UP grantees. 

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