Politics Mondays: Bush Policies Caused Decline In Minority College Enrollment by Rep. Curtis Richardson
At a recent media event, Gov. Jeb Bush announced that he would request funding in the upcoming budget for a number of proposals to increase diversity in Florida's universities. This came six months after the university system reported a decline in the number of first-time-in-college African-American students.
I question why it took seven years into his administration and an actual decrease in freshman African-American enrollment before the governor realized something had to be done.
The fact is, these enrollment losses can be directly attributed to Republican policies, especially those of the governor. Foremost among those policies was One Florida, the governor's unilateral act to eliminate affirmative action in Florida's universities by executive order.
This action led to a large mass protest at the Capitol after the governor refused to consult those who would be impacted the most. The overall enrollment declines we are seeing now are largely a result of this failed agenda.
In addition to the negative impact of One Florida, Republican fiscal policies over the past seven years have made post-secondary education cost-prohibitive for many families, especially minorities. The Republican agenda has been aimed more at providing billions of dollars in tax relief for big business and multimillionaires as opposed to fully funding the needs of our citizens. As a result, a university system on the verge of greatness has been starved financially, leading it to turn away otherwise qualified students.
For several years, the Republican-led Florida Legislature has refused to adequately fund the growth in student population or financial aid grants. And instead of sufficiently increasing state funding, the Legislature has forced universities to raise tuition and fees by almost 50 percent in the past four years, a rate so steep it threatened the solvency and existence of the popular Florida Prepaid College Program.
Additionally, the Legislature has nearly quadrupled spending on the Bright Futures program, which disproportionately benefits upper-income students. These policies together most profoundly impacted FAMU students, about 90 percent of whom received need-based aid.
The Florida Conference of Black State Legislators (the Black Caucus) has taken a lead role in addressing the issue of minority student access, enrollment and graduation. For the past four years, I have served as the lead for our caucus in promoting a budget agenda that would provide these resources. As a result of the caucus's effort during the 2005 session, the state's three private historically black colleges and universities received their first state funding increase in a decade.
However, our other efforts have fallen on deaf ears, despite these priorities being echoed by FAMU and other student leaders to the governor and legislative leadership. For example, Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa, and I have sponsored several amendments to increase financial aid and minority access that were rejected by Republicans.
In fact, the caucus advocated for increased funding for both “pipeline” programs, the College Board Partnership and the College Reach-Out Program. These vital programs target African-American middle and high school students for college preparation through tutoring, mentoring, college experience, advance placement courses and standardized test taking. The Legislature, however, reduced the original allocations for these programs, and the governor's recent proposal would simply restore a portion of what was cut in the first place.
Despite our struggles for his cooperation in the past, I'm pleased to see the governor has now embraced these initiatives as a means for increasing access and diversity in Florida's universities. It is incumbent on him to use his bully pulpit to convince the Legislature that this initiative is right for Florida and its students. I stand ready to work with him and his legislative sponsors in that regard.
Rep. Curtis Richardson is a member of the Florida House of Representatives representing District 8 and the Tallahassee area. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This op-ed appears in The Tallahassee Democrat.
Rep. Curtis Richardson
Monday, January 30, 2006