February 9, 2001
By Daniel Muñoz
The Committee on Education and the Workforce held its first official meeting of the year on Wednesday (Feb. 7) and immediately pushed through a change in the committee rules to separating consideration of minority higher education issues from consideration of other higher education issues.
The Republican-controlled House Education Committee shifted oversight of black and Hispanic colleges to a newly-created panel which oversees youth violence, child abuse and other social programs.
Led by committee Chairman, John Boehner (R-OH) stated that the changes approved on a party-line vote would free up lawmakers to focus more closely on education issues that affect the nation's 118 public and private historically black colleges and universities and 203 Hispanic-serving institutions.
Led by ranking member George Miller (D-CA), and Rep. Major Owens of the Congressional Black Caucus and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, all committee Democrats voted against the rules package, citing the rules change as amounting to discrimination because black and Hispanic institutions would be separated from other colleges.
Prior to the full committee vote, in a letter sent to Chairman Boehner by Black and Hispanic lawmakers they decried the decision to remove minority higher education issues from the jurisdiction of the subcommittee that handles all higher education issues is an insult to black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American communities and a threat to the attention their education needs will receive by Congress.
Under the rules change, issues affecting Historically Black Colleges and Hispanic Serving Institutions will take place in a new select education subcommittee, which also has been given jurisdiction over juvenile justice, child abuse, runaway youth and other issues. A newly formed Subcommittee on 21st Competitiveness will handle all other higher education issues, as well as programs aimed at training teachers and boosting science and technology studies.
Committee Democrats argued that the rules change was offensive because it gives the impression that black and Hispanic higher education issues would be treated differently than higher education issues for non-minority students.
"When the 21st Century Subcommittee discusses improving higher education and increasing the competitiveness of our college students, they obviously mean everyone except minorities," stated the Caucuses in their joint letter to the chairman dated February 2.
"The current jurisdictional split sets minority education back at least 50 years, to a time when minorities were `separate but equal'," the letter continued. "As the Supreme Court ruled, clearly and decisively, separating minorities in the classroom is an inherently unfair system. This is just as true when considering how to improve postsecondary educational opportunities. We believe this is an incredulous statement on behalf of the Committee majority as to how they view minority higher education issues separate from, and unequal to, mainstream higher education."
The rules change will shift minority higher education issues from the general discussion on education and lump them with unrelated social programs, such as adoption and domestic volunteer programs. The Minority Caucus stated that the isolation minority higher education issue sends an unmistakable signal that minority postsecondary education is a social problem.
"There is a negative implication when you consider the fact that minority higher education has been combined with programs directed toward at-risk youth programs such as juvenile justice, child abuse, and runaway youth. This would suggest minority higher education initiatives are only for troubled youth."
"I have to believe that the Chairman and his staff made this decision without realizing its impact," said Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), member of the Committee and Chair of the Education Task Force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "This sends an unmistakable signal from the majority that minority post-secondary eeucation is a social problem."
"This flies in the face in the face of President George W. Bush's attempt to build a bipartisan and inclusive environment," concluded Hinojosa.