October 25, 2023

Fast-Tracked Bill Would End Race-Based Financial Aid for Students of Color

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WEAC leaders are speaking out against a fast-tracked Assembly bill that would end the use of race-based criteria for all state-funded financial aid programs, instead making the aid only available to students with financial need who already qualify. The proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 554, had a public hearing by the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee. The companion bill, SB 596, has been referred to the Senate Colleges and Universities Committee. The governor has signaled he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

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The bill comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court decision restricting the use of race in college admissions. While the Court ruling was mute on scholarships, Wisconsin joins a number of states in which Republican lawmakers have interpreted the decision to cover all financial aid.

“This law would deal a devastating blow to programs designed to increase the number of minority educators in Wisconsin’s public schools and would harm overall efforts to recruit more professionals into the teaching profession,” said WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen.

Currently, minority undergraduate retention grants – ranging from $250 to $2,500 – are available to Black, Native American, Hispanic or Southeast Asian students who attend technical colleges, private nonprofit colleges and tribal colleges. A second program covers students of color who attend UW-System schools.

“Once again, legislators are going in the wrong direction,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “We know from UW data and research that students of color are more likely to drop out and less likely to graduate than their white peers. High costs and a lack of financial aid are part of the problem, and this bill would make that problem worse.”

One component of the bill would end the Minority Teacher Loan Program, which is currently available to minority students enrolled in a teaching program in a hard-to-fill discipline and allows an eligible student a loan of up to $10,000 a year for three years. A quarter of the loan is forgiven if the recipient meets criteria including working as a full-time teacher in a high-demand subject area and is employed in a district in which 40 percent or more minority student enrollment. Under the bill, partial loan forgiveness would be applied only if the teacher works in a district in which 80 percent or more of the pupils are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

In addition to barring retention grants, the technical college system would be prevented from awarding grants specifically to help students of color in the form of counseling, tutoring or internships. The tech college board would also be banned from using race as a factor for priority when awarding incentive grants for courses.

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