Federal Agencies, Congress Mull Katrina Aid Packages: Initiatives Aim to Return Students to the Classroom, Rebuild Affected Colleges and Universities

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With many Black colleges and other universities still reeling across the Gulf Coast, the Bush administration and African-American lawmakers are proposing new initiatives to rebuild facilities and return students to the classroom.

Action in Washington, D.C., is moving ahead on two fronts, with members of Congress offering high-cost reconstruction plans while federal agencies are funding more modest, targeted assistance. While much remains unresolved--including long-term funding in a tight fiscal climate-Gulf Coast education leaders say they are encouraged by the effort so far.

"The outpouring of support has been tremendous," says Dr. Walter L. Strong, vice president for advancement at historically Black Dillard University in New Orleans. His institution is seeking $347 million to rebuild facilities and to support faculty and students displaced by the hurricane.

"We have been walking the halls of Congress looking to maximize flexibility and support," he says. "The wheels of Washington turn slowly, but you have to stay at it."

While many aid packages are still in the proposal stage, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is moving ahead with grant competitions for Gulf Coast HBCUs and other affected colleges.

Named Universities Rebuilding America Partnerships, the program includes $3.6 million solely for HBCUs, plus another $2 million competition for HBCUs and other colleges. For the larger pot of money, institutions can seek grants to fund clearance and demolition, rehabilitation activities, assistance to community-based organizations, public service activities, distance-learning programs and other community activities. Individual grants are being capped at $350,000.

The remaining $2 million is available for architectural partnerships involving higher education institutions.

"These universities will use their great talents and energy to partner with communities that have been affected by the hurricanes as we seek to rebuild the Gulf," said HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson in announcing the initiative last month.

While these funds already are out for disbursement, the Congressional Black Caucus is setting its sights higher with a $3 billion program to help rebuild colleges and universities devastated by Katrina. The CBC says 30 colleges and universities serving 100,000 students sustained direct damage from the hurricane, and those institutions employed 30,000 faculty, administrators and staff.

The caucus' plan--the Hurricane Katrina Recovery, Reclamation, Restoration, Reconstruction and Reunion Act--is a "humane attempt to create funding and aid to those in dire straights," says U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., the CBC's vice chair. Aside from higher education components, the bill also contains funding for K-12 education, healthcare, housing and unemployment assistance. Other provisions call for a new anti-poverty effort and a victims fund similar to the one used after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A summary of the bill says that revitalizing colleges and universities "will be a vital element in attracting middle- and upper-income families back to the Gulf Coast region."

Within the higher education pot, half of funds would go toward need-based aid for students in the 2005-2006 school year and the succeeding four years. …