Proposed Education Cuts

President Bush’s 2009 education budget proposal has many black educators concerned about the impact of federal cuts on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Lezli Baskerville, president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, says Bush’s budget proposal essentially nullifies an increase in funding that was promised to HBCUs by the 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA).

The proposed budget cuts will hurt financially strapped HBCUs, such as Fisk University, which recently scrapped its NCAA athletics program due to lack of funding, notes Edith L. Bartley, the United Negro College Fund’s director of government affairs. Bartley says Congress intended for CCRAA funds to be in addition to any regularly appropriated funds for HBCUs.

“The president’s proposed budget cuts are inconsistent with the federal policy and commitment to support HBCUs, (which) are more vulnerable and at a significant disadvantage going into fiscal year ’10,” she adds. “For the past several years, the White House has proposed level funding of $238 million for HBCUs under the core program. Under the CCRAA, Congress provided an additional $170 million in mandatory funding ($85 million per year over two years–’08 and ’09) for the core HBCU program. The president’s budget has proposed that the $85 million for fiscal year ’09 under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act be counted toward the $238 million the White House proposes Congress appropriate for HBCUs next year.”

“Last year, the Democratic Congress provided an historic increase in funding for historically black colleges and universities–an investment that these schools urgently needed after years of being severely underfunded at the hands of the Bush administration,” says Rachel Racusen, deputy communications director for the Committee on Education and Labor. “That’s why it’s so disappointing that the president’s budget ignores the needs of HBCUs by proposing to strip away important resources intended to help minority students go to college and succeed.”

However, White House officials contend that since the act was passed, the cuts really have little effect on HBCUs and that funding will basically remain the same. “We have to make tough decisions with discretional funding and our budget reflects that,” says Samara Yudof, press secretary for the Department of Education. “The 2009 funding levels for HBCUs are consistent with the funding levels in 2007 for HBCUs.”

For Baskerville, President Bush’s 2009 education budget proposal is an indication of a lack of importance placed on HBCUs by the White House. “It is a signal to members of Congress, others in the Beltway, the HBCU and alumni community … that this administration places a low premium on strengthening America’s HBCUs–the quintessential equal educational opportunity institutions,” she says.