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September 11, 2019

Senator Doug Jones Urges Congress to Immediately Extend Funding for Minority-Serving Educational Institutions

“Ensuring equal access to quality education should not be a partisan issue.” – Senator Jones

WASHINGTON – Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) today spoke on the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to support renewed funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions by passing his bipartisan, bicameral Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act.

“At the end of the fiscal year, nearly half of all federal funds for these schools that they receive each year and have so for a long, long time, that is going to end…. That’s $255 million annually that they have been able to count on for well over a decade,” said Senator Jones, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “That is going to come to a screeching halt if we don’t act, and we need to act now.”

“Ensuring equal access to quality education should not be a partisan issue,” Senator Jones said in his closing remarks. “Their graduates deserve the same quality education as any other student, and they deserve a fair shot at a successful future.”

In May, Senator Jones and Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced the FUTURE Act to renew $255 million in annual mandatory funding set to expire at the end of this fiscal year for all minority-serving institutions, including HBCUs. The legislation would extend this funding for an additional two years.

Senator Jones has long advocated for greater federal investment in our nation’s HBCUs. In addition to the FUTURE Act, he has also secured a 14-percent increase in funding for HBCUs and led an effort to examine and address the disproportionate student debt burden among students of color. In February, he held an inaugural HBCU Summit at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham, Ala.

Video of his remarks is available here and a transcript is below.

U.S. Senate Chamber
Senator Jones Urges Colleagues to Support FUTURE Act
September 11, 2019
Note: transcription edited for clarity

SENATOR JONES: Mr. President, I rise today almost a year ago since I first came to the Senate floor to discuss the state of our nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions. As I did then and many times since, I am again making an urgent call to colleagues to act. At the end of this month, at the end of the fiscal year, nearly half of all federal funds for these schools that they receive each year and have so for a long, long time, that is going to end, nearly half of that. That's $255 million annually that they have been able to count on for well over a decade. That is going to come to a screeching halt if we don't act, and we need to act now.

These historic institutions serve nearly four million students of color. Many of our nation's brightest minds have matriculated at these institutions. HBCUs are the leading educators for African American PhDs in science and in engineering. They are foundational to building generational wealth in communities that have long faced headwinds in doing so. They are doing amazing work. They are doing incredible work with very limited resources, and with their own individual financial headwinds to contend with.

In Alabama, we are home to 14 HBCUs, more than any state in the country. So they are an integral part of my home state's higher education system, and just as importantly, they're integral to the economy of Alabama. Minority-serving institutions play an essential role in America's higher education system. For example, Hispanic-serving institutions account for 13 percent of all nonprofit colleges, yet they enroll 62 percent of all Hispanic students. More than 75 percent of students at HBCUs and nearly 80 percent of students at tribal colleges and universities receive Pell grants, compared to only 32 percent of all students.

These schools have a very, very serious purpose for these kids who otherwise might get shut out, likely would get shut out, of our higher education system. They are so important, and they face such strong headwinds financially to achieve. I will tell you, Mr. President, last year we held our first HBCU summit where we brought all of our HBCUs in Alabama together to talk about the challenges, to talk about what they were facing, but also to talk about opportunities to work together, to work with the state, to work with the Congress to try to meet the challenges of our workforce of the 21st century, to try to meet the challenges of our educational system in general, and what I saw was an amazing group of people, amazing group of people who were doing the work for their students and for their communities. [I saw] people who are committed from deep down in their heart. They love these kids. They love the purpose that they are serving. And they are thinking ahead. They're thinking outside the box. These are not institutions that are so cookie-cutter that they're not willing to explore new opportunities for their students. They're seizing every one of those opportunities.

I have seen firsthand, though, increasing concern from our HBCU community. Given their significance, it is frustrating that some of these schools continue to struggle. Public and private HBCUs face extensive capital project needs, but have few funding sources to rely on. On top of that, the government accountability office found that HBCUs average endowment is half the size of a similarly sized non HBCU. We've got to change that. We have to make sure that we provide to these schools, because the bottom line is they have no safety net. They struggle, they work, they do the things, but the bottom line is they have no safety net. And if they have no safety net, neither do the students that they serve.

This time last year I was talking about legislation that I had introduced called the Strengthening Minority-Serving Institutions Act, which would have permanently extended and increased mandatory funding to all minority-serving institutions. That bill was supported by a quarter of the senate. Unfortunately it was simply all Democrats. We could not get the bipartisan support that I hope we will get in the future. However, now we are here and only have 19 days left in the fiscal year, and these schools still have no certainty about whether these critical funds will continue to be available.

Now, we hear a lot in this body about the need to make sure that we continue to fund government, that we continue to fund our military and how devastating even a continuing resolution might be to the Defense Department because it doesn't allow the military to plan. I agree with that. I see it. But this is $255 million that all of the sudden is going to be cut off completely from schools that have relied on it, that have planned, that have done their budgets around. We owe it to them. We owe it to them because they give so much back to us to make sure that we get this funding.

Ensuring equal access to quality education should not be a partisan issue, and I've worked over the last year to find a solution that I think should receive and could receive broad bipartisan support. I believe we have that in the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act. It's called the FUTURE Act, which I've introduced with my colleague Senator Tim Scott and Representatives Alma Adams and Mark Walker over in the House. The FUTURE Act reauthorizes funding for the next two fiscal years, maintaining just level funding of $255 million a year. It is the least that we could do. Our bill checks all the boxes. It helps institutions in 43 states. It is bipartisan. It is bicameral. And it is paid for. So let's just not delay any longer.

Let's, with this important bill, let's get this to the floor. Let's come up with something that we can show the American people how important these institutions are, but just as important, we can show to the American people that, doggone it, we can get something done, because that is the most frustrating part that I have heard from when I went back to Alabama over the recess. When are you going to get something done, Jones? Well, it's difficult. And you all know it, it's difficult. But this is a piece of legislation that ought to receive support here in this body and across the aisle, across the Capitol in the House. So I urge my colleagues. This week we have a lot of HBCU presidents and administrators that are on Capitol Hill. They're coming up for their own benefit but also the Congressional Black Caucus events later this week. They're here on the Hill. It would be the perfect time to get this to the floor. I don't see it on the schedule anywhere, but it would be the perfect time. As people are looking here, as they're watching us and listening to us, they know we support their institutions. Let's show them that we support their institutions.

I urge my colleagues to support the FUTURE Act. Get on board with us. Sponsor this legislation and support our nation's institutions of higher education. Their graduates deserve the same quality education as any other student, and they deserve a fair shot at a successful future. Let's get this done. Let's do our job and get this done. Thank you very much, Mr. President, and I yield the floor.

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