In the Wisconsin State Assembly last week, an amendment was put forth that would remove race as a requirement for Talent Incentive Program grants. The proposed amendment immediately drew support for Republicans and fire from Democrats.
The Talent Incentive Program is a $4.4 million program that offers grants between $600 and $1800 to underprivileged students who are attending college in the state. In 2010-11, the Talent Incentive Program granted $3.7 million to 2,476 students in the University of Wisconsin system, the average award being just more that $1,500.
Currently, to apply for Talent Incentive Program grants, the student must be in financial need and a "non-traditional student." "Non-traditional student" must be one of several criteria to qualify, including being handicapped, a first-generation college attendee or black, American Indian, Hispanic or Hmong.
State Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, proposed the amendment that would remove being a minority from the criteria to qualify for the Talent Incentive Program grants and expand the eligibility to people of all races. It was adopted on a 57-34 vote with all Democrats, except Krusick, voting against it.
State Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, said, "What it is is racism in its highest institutional level." That sentiment was echoed by Rep. Brett Hulsey, who called the proposal a "racist race to the bottom" that will only result in minorities losing access to jobs.
Republicans felt that the amendment was a step in the right direction for the universities of Wisconsin. State Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markeson, said "What we’re doing with this amendment is making the talent incentive grant color blind."
However, there is evidence that the race-based criteria hasn’t been used in the distribution of grants. According to a letter sent to Governor Scott Walker on Nov. 3, the Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB) has been disregarding the race-based criteria since August 2010.
Kevin Ingram, director of the Wisconsin Educational Opportunities Program (WEOP) that manages the TIP grant program with HEAB, said, "The changes have come about as the result of a complaint that was filed with the U.S. Department of Education. And that was done on (in) September 2006."
The complaint that was filed alleged that the minority requirement to be eligible for the grants was discriminatory by denying other races an equal opportunity to participate in the program.
The policy change hasn’t been formally applied to Talent Incentive Programs. As of last February, 51 percent of grants went to minority students while 49 percent went to whites.
In 2010-2011, 162 students enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point received Talent Incentive Program grants totaling $256,377. When asked about how this amendment would affect minority students on the UWSP campus, Shantanu Pai, the Multcultural Issues Director for the Student Government Association, said that he doesn’t believe it will, but wonders when cut backs on minority programs will stop.
"Over the years, there has been an organized attack on programs of such (a) nature…The idea behind creating programs that provided funding to the marginal section was to level the playing field. When does (cutting back) stop?" Pai said.
With Nov. 2 being the State Senate’s last planned session day this year, Democrats objecting to the bill containing the amendment to the TIP can delay the passage of the bill until the Senate reconvenes in January.