Lawmakers consider expanding eligibility for state Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship

Last applicant was in 2019

By: - January 13, 2023 12:01 am

Barbara Johns, who, as a teenager, helped organize a strike to desegregate schools in Prince Edward County. (Library of Virginia)

Nearly a million dollars sits in a state scholarship fund for people denied a public education during Massive Resistance, when Virginia imposed a set of laws to prevent school desegregation. Now a lawmaker is pushing to expand the criteria for more candidates to apply.

Last month, Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, filed House Bill 1419, which would extend eligibility for the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Fund to the “lineal and collateral descendants of persons” who were denied a public education in the localities of Arlington County, Charlottesville, Norfolk, Prince Edward County and Warren County, due to the closing of the public schools to avoid desegregation between 1954 and 1964.

“I am proud that Virginia has established this fund and think that our state government should actively promote it — especially these days, when more and more is being learned about our education system, land use, and zoning — and how we absolutely in all those ways disadvantaged people of color and took their property and suppressed their ability to achieve in our society,” said Kory. “I think we should all be enthusiastic about this opportunity to use the balance of $989,185.00 to support the education of the siblings and descendants of those irreparably harmed.”

Under the existing law, only persons who resided in the five listed jurisdictions at the time of the school closings are eligible for the program. The late Democratic Sen. Benjamin Lambert, who represented the Richmond area, carried the bill to create and fund the scholarship program and fund in 2004.

Lily Jones, reference center director for the Division of Legislative Services, said the statute was repealed, modified and reenacted in the following years, but the program has been continuously in place. She said the state appropriated $50,000 for the fund when it was first enacted. John Kluge, a private donor, then offered $1 million if the state would match the donation, so Virginia contributed an additional $1 million, bringing total contributions to $2.1 million.

Over the years, 88 students have received scholarships that totaled $1.3 million.

But the program has not received any new applicants since 2019, Jones said, despite statewide ads being published each year.

Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, served as the committee chair until her four-year term expired during the pandemic. The committee has not met since June 2019, according to its records.

Lucas said she would support legislation to expand the criteria for eligible descendants.

“I think it’s an excellent idea, because I think it was so wrong, so discriminatory, to have done it in the first place that there needs to be, and I guess I want to call it this in some respect, reparations,” Lucas said.

Kaye said she believes the bill is in line with the purpose of the program and that her colleagues should “seriously consider” expanding the eligibility criteria.

The bill was referred to the House Education Committee, which meets next Wednesday.

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Nathaniel Cline
Nathaniel Cline

Nathaniel is an award-winning journalist who's been covering news across the country since 2007, including politics at The Loudoun Times-Mirror and The Northern Neck News in Virginia as well as sports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. He has also hosted podcasts, worked as a television analyst for Spectrum Sports, and appeared as a panelist for conferences and educational programs. A graduate of Bowie State University, Nathaniel grew up in Hawaii and the United Kingdom as a military brat. Five things he must have before leaving home: his cellphone, Black Panther water bottle, hand sanitizer, wedding ring and Philadelphia Eagles keychain.