College financial aid is available in a variety of options including scholarships, loans, grants, and work study programs. Aid is offered at the local, state, and federal level.
Wisconsin’s Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB) is the state agency which manages and oversees the state’s student financial aid system. One grant Wisconsin offers is the Talent Incentive Program Grant. There are between 4,000 and 5,000 Talent Incentive Grants serviced each year with continuing grants funded first.
The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) maintains the Talent Incentive Program “provides grant assistance to the most needy and educationally disadvantaged Wisconsin resident students attending colleges and universities in the State of Wisconsin.”
Candidates for a Talent Incentive Grant must “demonstrate financial need and come from a non-traditional or educationally-disadvantaged background” including being a part of one of the following races: African-American, Hispanic, Southeast Asian, or Native American. Note – neither Caucasian nor any other ethnic groups qualify as non-traditional.
On Nov. 1, 2011, Assembly Bill 142 was debated in Assembly session. AB 142 reads: “This bill amends s. 39.435 (2), stats., to provide that recipients of talent incentive grants need not maintain continuous enrollment in their higher education institutions. Under the bill, recipients are eligible to receive those grants for up to 10 semesters during a six-year period.”
A bill that appeared to be a simple vote devolved into an acrimonious debate spanning more than nine hours before final passage. Sparking the firestorm was Assembly Amendment 2 introduced by Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee. Her amendment reads: Page 2, line 11: after “subsection.” insert “In promulgating those rules, the board may not establish membership in a minority group specified in s. 39.44 (1) (a) 1. to 4. as an eligibility criterion for a grant under this subsection.”.
Effectively, Assembly Amendment 2 would eliminate minority status as one of the requirements to receive the grant. Assembly Democrats argued the amendment was racist. In other words, they claimed that by including all ethnicities in the program was in itself racist. Some Democrats even fought to have Krusick kicked out of their caucus.
In fact, the Higher Education Aids Board has since issued a letter to Governor Scott Walker requesting a change to the administrative rule relating to the Talent Incentive Grant eligibility.
The letter cited a complaint filed by the U.S. Dept. of Education Office of Civil Rights that alleged the Board’s Talent Incentive Program Grant discriminates against non-minority students on the basis of race and natural origin by denying them an equal opportunity to participate in a financial aid program.
Interestingly, in August 2010, during the Doyle administration, the Higher Education Aids Board changed their internal policy to exclude race criteria from eligibility. However, they did not inform the legislature of the change, nor request an update to state statues.
Poverty is an equal dis-opportunity for anyone caught in its cycle. Its parameters do not change based on race and natural origin. Poverty is color blind.