When considering budget, DeSantis should spare HBCU
In the context of the many disruptions caused by the current pandemic, many of us have been forced to re-evaluate the way we live our lives.
COVID-19 has prompted much reflection and many tough choices, as we cope with limited access to otherwise routine services and goods — from assessing more quotidian priorities as we experience a life devoid of former conveniences, to the dire calculus of allocating strained resources. These individual predicaments are paralleled by those faced in government and civic leadership, as individuals and society alike must make the challenging distinction between the essential and non-essential.
The budget approved by the Florida Legislature for the fiscal year 2020-21 represents one output of such dire calculus, and when Gov. Ron DeSantis directs his veto pen toward its $93.2 billion in funding, he is sure to conduct his own painstaking review in the context of essential vs. nonessential spending. In this assessment, funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) ought to factor as deeply essential to our state’s economic health, cultural standing and infrastructure.
A product of exhaustive negotiations that I spearheaded, the Legislature’s allocation of $34 million toward BethuneCookman University, Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial University represents a much-needed intervention toward sustaining these longstanding cultural and educational landmarks. These institutions of higher learning — grounded in community-based, values-oriented scholarship — will prepare many future drivers of our state’s civic and economic engines. These institutions continue to shape an agile workforce that is wellequipped to innovate in the face of changing times and volatile circumstances.
Most uniquely, these institutions serve and uplift a population that is significantly more likely to be underserved and disenfranchised elsewhere. These HBCUs are propellers for the minds and prospects of countless young Floridians of color, many of whom would face insurmountable opportunity-gaps in the absence of these culturally informed institutions.
The funding in the current version of our state’s 2020-21 budget will allow these HBCUs to continue their legacies as incubators of civic engagement, economic innovation and community-minded leadership — critical ingredients for our state and country’s survival in times of crisis and transition.
The historic relevance of these institutions speaks volumes about the need for their continued existence and success. Much as they propelled African American Floridians through the civil rights movement and other periods of adversity, they are essential to the advancement of our people, and in turn our entire state, through the COVID-19 era and beyond.
As COVID-19 reshapes our outlook on the world, I hope we will not lose sight of the vital needs met by historically black institutions of higher learning like Bethune-Cookman University, Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial University.
When the time comes to review the state’s budget, I encourage Gov. DeSantis to reflect on the economic, cultural, and human value that these universities sustain, especially during times like the present.