U.S. Senate approves bill to restore federal funding to nation’s Historically Black Colleges, Universities

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bipartisan bill that will restore funding for historically Black colleges and universities, as well as other minority-serving institutions.

The bill, known as the FUTURE Act (or Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education), will provide $255 million annually for these institutions and was already passed by the House of Representatives last month, according to CNN.

Additionally, it’ll simplify the FAFSA application for federal student aid by  nixing up to 22 questions and getting rid of the “bureaucratic verification nightmare” requiring some students to verify IRS documents with the U.S. Education Department before their aid could be released.

Senate Education Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), who helped sponsor the bill, lauded the newly passed legislation. His website indicates the bill will essentially fund itself and stands to save taxpayers $2.8 billion over the next decade.

“It is  hard to think of a piece of legislation that would have more of a lasting impact on minority students [and] their families than this bill,” Alexander said in a statement.

Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) also backed the bill, which will primarily be funded via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Act.

The passage comes after 38 senators penned a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in early November, urging them to allow the measure to be considered. Senator and presidential hopeful Cory Booker pointed out that federal funding for HBCUs and other institutions had dried up in September.

“The impact these institutions can have on students of color is priceless,” the New Jersey Democrat said in a release. “For my father, born poor in the segregated South, attending North Carolina Central University, an HBCU, proved to be a bridge for him and my family to move from poverty to the Middle Class in a single generation. Students across this nation deserve the same chance to thrive.”

In addition to funding HBCUs, the measure will also streamline the student repayment process by eliminating annual paperwork and allows 7 million applicants to be exempt from requesting separate documentation from the IRS if they’re unable to access their data.

Because of amendments added in the Senate, the bill will now head back to the House for another vote.