Virginia will receive $4.3 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, and former Gov. Doug Wilder has called on the state to use the funds to help the state’s historically Black colleges and universities.
Wilder and former state secretary of education James W. Dyke Jr. penned a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam and other state leaders, urging them to confront the “long-standing denial of education opportunities” to Black Virginians.
Wilder and Dyke called for the state to give $50 million to Virginia State University, Virginia Union University, Hampton University and Norfolk State University to fund scholarships, academic programs capital projects and more. It would help right historical wrongs, Wilder said.
“I’m not asking for reparations,” Wilder said. “I’m asking for what’s right.”
According to a report published by education think tank Education Reform Now, 34% of Virginia residents between the ages of 18 and 24 are Black or Latino. But only three public universities in the state have a student body that meets that proportion: Norfolk State, Virginia State and Old Dominion University.
At Virginia Tech and James Madison University, just 10% of undergraduates identify as Black or Hispanic. The responsibility of educating Black students has fallen to the HBCUs, Wilder said, and they are underfunded.
Last month, Northam laid out priorities for how to spend the $4.3 billion. While public schools were on the list, Northam’s concern seems more directed to K-12 education.
Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said Friday the state is more likely to address HBCU funding in December, rather than during a special session of the General Assembly to address the federal aid. Northam will propose his final budget in December before he leaves office.
The American Rescue Plan Act represents one-time funding, and the state generally won’t use one-time funds to pay for ongoing expenses. Northam already made HBCUs a priority in the budget adopted by the General Assembly this year, Layne said.
“The governor has demonstrated he is aware of that issue,” Layne added.
HBCUs need more than $50 million, Wilder said, but he suggested the specific figure because it’s realistic and a reasonable share of the overall pot.
The budget Northam signed this year gives $12.9 million to Norfolk State to restore previous reductions and to pay for technology upgrades. The assembly added $5 million to create a joint school of public health for Norfolk State and Old Dominion.
The budget also includes $6.2 million for VSU, recommended by Northam, to restore funding for the Virginia College Affordability Network, which helps low-income students pay for their education, its data center and programming.
The governor also approved $8.5 million toward Tuition Assistance Grants that go toward private schools, including Virginia Union and Hampton.
Lastly, the budget allocated an extra $30 million in financial aid to public institutions. But Wilder said he’s simply asking for a level of fairness that doesn’t currently exist.
“The time has long since passed since action should have been taken,” Wilder said.
Staff writer Michael Martz contributed to this report.