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Bush’s HBCU Increase: Enough or Too Little?

Bush’s HBCU Increase: Enough or Too Little?
By Charles Dervarics

With the House of Representatives and the Senate mired in a budget dispute, not even a simple resolution honoring Black colleges can get through without partisan differences.

While lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a recent resolution honoring HBCUs, Democrats used floor time before the vote to criticize Bush administration proposals that would limit to 3.6 percent next year’s funding increases for
HBCUs and other minority-serving colleges and universities.

“It is a small increase, but it is not an increase that keeps up with inflation,” says Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J. “We must go beyond empty words of praise,” he added, referring to the HBCU resolution that passed in the House. Holt also called for more action to increase funding for Pell Grants, where the top grant would remain at $4,000 under the administration’s plan.

For Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., the 3.6 percent increase for HBCUs — contained in the Bush budget and in a bill introduced by senior House lawmakers — falls far short of recent gains. “The increase is far less than it was before,” he says. Overall, Black colleges have averaged a 15 percent annual increase in federal funding during the past five years, he says.

Republican leaders downplayed the conflict but were quick to point out that HBCUs have obtained large funding increases for much of the past decade. “Since 1995, Congress has increased its financial support of HBCUs by 89 percent,” says Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

This commitment will continue in 2003 with the president’s proposed increase, he said, a view also endorsed by Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla. President Bush is supporting similar funding increases for HBCUs, Watts says, adding, “so many more students can aspire to their hopes and dreams.”

The resolution honoring HBCUs gained overwhelming bipartisan approval. As for funding issues, lawmakers of both parties say the issue will not be resolved until after the November mid-term elections. Congress is due to return the week before Thanksgiving to attempt to finish work on budget proposals. All higher education programs began fiscal year 2003 with temporary funding, which will continue until lawmakers resolve their funding differences.

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