Permanent funding for HBCUs may get Senate, House approval

After stalling a bill that allocates nearly $300 million in federal money for historically black colleges and universities, the U.S. Senate has proposed an amendment to make the funding permanent.

The House is expected to go along with the change.

The Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act provides $255 million in funding for HBCUs and minority-serving institutions within Title III of the Higher Education Act.

On Dec. 4, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. —  along with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sens. Doug Jones, D-Ala., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del. — released a bipartisan amendment to the FUTURE Act, taking a step toward making sure the institutions receive the finds.

“The FUTURE Act will provide much-needed long-term financial stability to our nation’s HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions,” Scott said via press release.

In FY 2019, four institutions in The T&D region – Claflin University, South Carolina State University, Voorhees College and Denmark Technical College – received a combined $2.7 million from the FUTURE Act.

S.C. State received $952,537, Claflin got $788,702 and Denmark Tech and Voorhees each received $500,000.

Initially, the House-passed version of the FUTURE Act made the funding available for two fiscal years but the money was not included in a House continuing resolution to fund the government until Dec. 20. The bill was stalled in the Senate by Alexander, who is the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The Tennessee Republican said he wanted to include amendments that make the funding permanent, simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and expand the eligibility for Pell grants.

The bipartisan amendments are to make the millions in funding available annually and simplify the FAFSA.

“It’s hard to think of a piece of legislation that would have more of a lasting impact on minority students and their families than this bill,” Alexander said via press release.

“First, it provides permanent funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions attended by over 2 million minority students. Second, it takes a big first step in simplifying the FAFSA for 20 million American families, including 8 million minority students, and eliminating the bureaucratic nightmare created by requiring students to give the federal government the same information twice.”

Scott’s press release also detailed the amendments:

Permanently reauthorizes and provides $255 million in annual mandatory funding for historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions.
Fully pays for the legislation by including the FAFSA Act, which passed the Senate unanimously last year and which:
Allows providing tax information only once — Students do not have to give their tax information to the federal government twice.

Eliminates up to 22 questions — Students give permission to the Department of Education to request tax return data already given to the Internal Revenue Service, which reduces the 108 questions on the FAFSA by up to 22.

Eliminates verification nightmare — For most students, eliminates so-called “verification,” which is a bureaucratic nightmare that 5.5 million students go through annually to make sure the information they gave to the Department of Education is exactly the same as they gave to the IRS.

Eliminates $6 billion in mistakes — According to the Department of Education, helps taxpayers by eliminating up to $6 billion each year in mistakes (both overpayments and underpayments) in Pell grants and student loans.

Enables 7 million applicants who are currently unable to access their IRS data for their FAFSA to verify that they do not file taxes without requesting separate documentation from the IRS.

Streamlines student loan repayment by eliminating annual paperwork for 7.7 million federal student loan borrowers on income-driven plans.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the FAFSA Act saves taxpayers $2.8 billion over 10 years, which will be used to pay for the permanent funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.
“I am proud to support this bipartisan solution, which reauthorizes HBCU and MSI funding without putting taxpayers on the hook, and which takes a vital first step towards streamlining and simplifying the FAFSA form. This bill is a win for students, families and taxpayers,” Scott said via press release.

The House and Senate hope to have the bill passed by next week.

Late Thursday, House Majority Whip James Clyburn indicated passage could be reality.

Clyburn said in a statement:

“I am pleased the House and Senate have reached an agreement to provide critical long-term funding to HBCUs. I expect both bodies will pass the FUTURE Act before we adjourn for the year, which will provide the certainty these institutions need to plan for their futures.

“As an HBCU graduate, I know the value of these proud institutions. Not only do HBCUs contribute $15 billion annually to the national economy, but more importantly, they provide pathways of opportunity to 10% of all African American college graduates, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college.”