Brown vs. Board committee discusses changes to scholarship

Changes are coming next year to the Brown v. Board of Education scholarship program.

The Senate of Virginia Brown v. Board of Education scholarship met on Tuesday, May 9 for the first time in four years. The board only meets when they have a new applicant, which hasn’t happened since 2019. However, this year, along with voting to accept a new student, they also had to make decisions on how to implement the new changes for the scholarship.

Currently, the Brown v. Board of Education scholarship program provides scholarships for individuals who were unable to attend public schools between 1954 and 1964 due to schools closing to avoid desegregation. These jurisdictions were Charlottesville, Arlington, Norfolk, Warren County and Prince Edward County.

A growing problem with this scholarship is that those eligible are now between the ages of 65 to 85 and the pool is getting smaller of who would be interested in furthering their education. This year, HB 1419 and SB 1498 passed extended eligibility to also include the descendants of those eligible and will go into effect on Saturday, July 1. The language of the law specifies linear and collateral descendants, including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

OPENING UP THE SCHOLARSHIP

The board discussed when and how they would want to open up this new eligibility. When discussing whether or not to cap the number of applications, Robert Hamlin asked if that was a real concern due to how few applicants they’ve had in the past. Sen. Mamie Locke mentioned that there is no concrete idea of how many descendants there are and it’s hard to know how many to expect. Hamiln recalled seeing an estimate, that may or may not be accurate, of 3,600 students that were affected by the closures.

“I think that because we changed the law we need to establish the criteria for how we want this scholarship to be awarded going forward,” said Locke. “Given that we don’t know how many people there are out there who now may be eligible for awarding the scholarship to, I think we need to determine what that criteria is going to be because previously there was a finite number at some point. Now we don’t know that.”

During the discussion, Del. Candi Mundon King brought up the idea of making it needs-based since there will be more applicants to go through and to make sure those who need it the most have the opportunity. Del. Angelia Williams Graves liked the idea of capping the numbers in order to provide more help to those awarded.

“We have shortages in our workforce, so is there a way that we could look at specific degrees or degree programs in shortage areas that we have shortages in the labor force to incent those individuals to apply for the scholarship?” asked Williams Graves. “Sometimes people may not know what the shortages are and that those options are available to them, so that could be a way for us to help push some people into areas where we need them.”

When asked if students could lose the scholarship if they change majors, she stated that many times scholarships have certain criteria and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to make that condition.

Mundon King proposed setting aside $600,000 for those directly impacted and their children. Then for the grandchildren, nieces and nephews it can be done by need-based.

“My concern is for those who were directly impacted and their children,” said Mundon King. “Being a student of history, seeing what they’ve gone through I want to ensure that whoever is eligible to use this benefit after sacrificing so much we have a majority of those funds for those purposes. Of course, we can come back and reallocate for their further descendants.”

According to Locke, staff can draft the criteria to discuss at the next meeting.

As for a timeline, Williams Graves proposed continuing the status of the directly impacted folks for this next school year and then the descendants would go into effect in 2024-2025. This would give the board more time to make decisions on moving forward as well as getting word out on the changes to those eligible.

POSSIBLE FUNDING

One tricky aspect of this scholarship is its limited funding. The scholarship started in the 2005-2006 school year with around $2 million and since then 88 students have received scholarships leaving $989,185 currently remaining.

Hamlin mentioned at the end of the meeting that Ken Woodley, who was instrumental in getting this scholarship started, has a proposal for a federal spending grant with Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and would put more in the fund which could extend the program possibly indefinitely. The board voted to draft a letter of support on behalf of the committee.

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