Placeholder while loading article actions

A measure in Virginia’s new biennial budget is drawing criticism for redirecting funding for undocumented students to students at historically black colleges and universities in the state.

The money — $10 million over two years — had been earmarked for state financial assistance to undocumented immigrants, who are ineligible to receive federal student loans and grants. Instead, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) asked the General Assembly to give the money to students at Virginia’s five private and public HBCUs – the University of Virginia, Lynchburg, as well as universities in Hampton, Virginia Union, Norfolk State and Virginia State.

“Shame on the governor for weaponizing state financial aid as a cheap political ploy to divide communities of color,” said Sookyung Oh, director of the Hamkae Center, a civil rights organization in Virginia. . “If education was important to this governor, as he has asserted throughout his campaign, he could have easily allocated funds to ensure that every young Virginian who wishes to pursue a higher education in the Commonwealth has the resources needed to do so.”

Critics of the measure say it perpetuates a false shortage problem at a time when Virginia has a budget surplus, and it requires lawmakers to sacrifice one group of needy students for another.

“I understand and agree that we need to do something about HBCUs. This is not the right way to go. It’s messy,” said Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), Chief of Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, in the House before the vote on the amendment Friday “We have more than enough resources to help you.”

Some critics have also accused the governor of “pitting” the groups against each other, a charge Youngkin’s spokesman Macaulay Porter disputed on Tuesday.

“It’s a typical Democratic talking point to say that one group was ‘opposed’ to another,” Porter said. “The reality is that Governor Youngkin has made a commitment to provide the necessary funding for HBCUs and with this budget he is delivering on that commitment.”

University leaders from Virginia’s five HBCUs did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Youngkin’s amendment. The schools have for years asked lawmakers for fiscal support on par with the state’s predominantly white institutions.

Financial need is high in HBCUs, where many students come from low-income households. Generations of meager public appropriations, paltry donations, and inequitable federal funding have left universities without institutional resources to fund solid scholarships, making every extra dollar crucial.

‘We’re still behind:’ Public HBCUs see record investment, but still face legacy of state-sponsored discrimination

Financial needs are also high among undocumented immigrants, who have limited resources to finance their studies. Although some colleges are setting aside funds to help the population, scholarships are still scarce. Undocumented students, including those protected from deportation under the The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program often struggles to pay out of pocket.

During Friday’s budget session, Del. Alfonso H. Lopez (D-Arlington) asked House Budget Drafting Appropriations Committee Chairman Del. Barry D. Knight (R-Virginia Beach), to explain the reason for what he called a “zero-sum game.”

Knight said he assumed “the governor decided it was just his choice, that he thought if he liked anyone better, he would prefer black historic colleges and universities over DACA.”

“I’m flabbergasted by what’s just been said,” Lopez replied. “What the governor is doing is pitting two groups of needy students against each other, and the president just admitted that.”

Of the. AC Cordoza (R-Hampton) defended Youngkin’s claim. “HBCUs have been historically underfunded — we’ve heard it from both sides — and the governor is trying to do something about it, and all we hear are complaints,” Cordoza told the House. Friday.

Youngkin proposed that half of the $10 million be used to top up state student aid at Norfolk State and Virginia State universities, which are public institutions. The rest of the money will increase Virginia Tuition Assistance Grants, a form of assistance for residents attending private colleges and universities, to $7,500 from $5,000 a year for students attending historically black institutions.

The Republican-controlled House passed the budget amendment on a party-line vote. The measure narrowly cleared the Senate with the support of two Democrats – the Senses. Joseph D. Morrissey (Richmond) and Lionell Spruill Sr. (Chesapeake). Spruill did not respond to requests for comment, but Morrissey’s office referred to his floor speech on the amendment.

“By voting for this bill, we are supporting HBCU students. This is the bottom line. That’s why I’m going to support him,” Morrissey told lawmakers on Friday. “I’ve been to the state of Virginia…and personally talked to students who wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the scholarships they’ve been given.”

The measure is among three dozen amendments proposed by Youngkin after House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on a two-year, $165 billion budget plan this month.

Kamala Harris, the BLM protests have put a new spotlight on HBCUs. Many are now hoping for a financial settlement.

Before leaving the governor’s office in 2021, Ralph Northam (D) signed legislation allowing undocumented and DACA students to receive in-state tuition and apply for financial aid.

However, Lopez worries that there is no clear assurance from Youngkin that his administration will follow the law as written and ensure undocumented students have equal access to state financial aid.

Cordoza argued that the governor would not use “a vague interpretation to hurt a community.” He called accusations that Youngkin was pitting groups against each other “ridiculous”.