HB 1419 Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Program; extension of eligibility. Extends eligibility for the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Program to the lineal and collateral descendants of persons who were residing in jurisdictions in Virginia in which the public schools were closed to avoid desegregation between 1954 and 1964 and whose educations were affected by the school closings. Currently, only persons who resided in such jurisdictions at the time of the school closings are eligible for the program. This bill is identical to SB 1498.
The first bill that Delegate Kaye Kory (D-38) filed for the 2023 session of the General Assembly sought to expand reparations for Virginia’s failure to educate African American students in the 1950s and ‘60s. At that time, state leaders sought to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court desegregation decision in the 1954 case of Brown v Board of Education. The landmark decision would eventually end segregation in schools. But in 1958 and 1959 Virginia politicians declared a “massive resistance” strategy to avoid integration. Many schools were shut down until the Virginia Supreme Court and a panel of Federal judges from the Eastern District of Virginia declared the resistance policies unconstitutional.
In 2004, the General Assembly created a scholarship program and fund to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v Board of Education decision. The program was designed to assist those who were enrolled in the public schools of Virginia during the ten year period of Massive Resistance between 1954 and 1964, but denied an education. Several jurisdictions closed their public schools to avoid desegregation. Better off financially, white students could seek out private school alternatives, but most African American families were left with no options to educate their children.
Under the 2004 scholarship program, applicants could request awards to obtain an adult high school diploma, the GED certificate, CLEP credit, career or technical education or training, transitional education services, or a two-or four-year degree from an accredited public or private Virginia institute of higher education. An awards committee was established and an application cycle starts each January, operating now for almost two decades.
The State appropriated initial funding and regularly approved administration funds. The fund also received an early $1 million donation from a Charlottesville foundation created by philanthropist John Kluge. Several smaller donations raised the available starting funds to more than $2 million. The state has awarded scholarship money to about 88 students over the years since its establishment. However, far more than that number were denied an education during the massive resistance years.
Kory noticed that the scholarship awards had used only a little over half of the available funds. She made this discovery as she looked for scholarship funds scattered throughout Virginia code that might aid her constituents. As a former elected school board member for ten years and an education advocate, she said she knew “a good educational foundation from K -12 prepares people for success, crucial for participating fully in our economy and society.” She also noted that little use of the funds had been made since 2019 and that, by law, the funds could only be used for the stated purpose of the law: education of those impacted by massive resistance. She said she “saw the opportunity to help a lot of people” by making the funds available to more than the few people still alive who could apply under the existing Code. She felt that unless the criteria changed, it was unlikely the money would be used. Recognizing the need to “stem the tide of permanent economic loss that could still be reverberating in impacted families” she sponsored her bill to extend the coverage to descendants of those directly impacted.
Her bill added the language to §30-231-2 of the Code of Virginia to define “eligible student“ to also mean “a lineal or collateral descendant of such person.” This new language means, Kory said, “ the fund will open to benefit a lot of people who would want a higher education.” Kory knows of several who plan to apply once the bill is enacted. It now awaits the signature of the governor, due by March 27, in order to become law.
Will the bill meet success in this final step? Consider that HB 1419 was one of only 27 percent of bills sponsored by House delegates to pass in the 2023 session. The bill passed by unanimous vote in both the House and Senate.
Kory has another idea regarding the fund. She notes that it has not received additional contributions since it was established, beyond administrative funding for the awards committee staff which accepts applications and makes the awards. Kory thinks it is likely that members of the public would wish to contribute to the fund. She plans to work on ways to make public contributions to the fund possible.
For more information about the fund, including eligibility details and an application packet, see
http://brownscholarship.virginia.gov. The current deadline for applying under this cycle and current law is March 31, 2023.