Friday, May 19, 2017
It's a small school, but there are those who love it. And for good reason. Northwest Arkansas Community College offers a program well named Upward Bound that, every year, gives scores of poverty-stricken high school students a chance to better themselves by preparing them for college. But this year the school's request for a $1.3-million federal grant over five years to finance that good work was turned down because, get this, its request for the money was too well documented.
It turns out the school's application for the money went above the arbitrary 65-page limit suggested by the feds. And many of those students, to quote the college's Marcus Williams, "won't have an opportunity to participate and get the college experience anyplace else."
A vice president of the Council for Opportunity in Education--her name is Kimberly Jones--says the same inexplicable thing has been happening all over the country this year as a "startling" number of applications for such funds are rejected for no good reason. Or any reason at all. Indeed, the still new Secretary of Education in this administration, Betsy DeVos, has explicitly said that technicalities like limits on the number of pages in an application for federal funds may not be used as a reason to reject applications.
Who pays for the opportunities being lost in this Land of Opportunity besides the Arkansas taxpayer and American taxpayers in general? Mainly the kids who are denied a chance they deserve when such worthwhile programs are shut down, as this one may well be by fall. Because a program that's supposed to help them was instead sabotaged by the misnamed U.S. Department of Education and some apparatchiks therein.
There may be some justification for rejecting some applications, like missed deadlines. But in the main there's no good reason, or any reason at all, to kill good programs like this one at Northwest Arkansas Community College and elsewhere in the country. How long before Upward Bound programs can get started again? Marcus Williams at the college says it "all depends on when they [in Washington] release another grant opportunity. That could be next year or it could be five years. There's no clear way of knowing."
Left in the lurch in the meantime are a total of 1,479 students statewide who depend on these programs. Maybe the money can be replaced at some still undetermined date, but not the time lost. And who knows how many of these students will be so discouraged at getting the runaround that they just give up on getting a college education? Talk about being penny wise and dollar foolish, your federal government is an expert at it.
How many other schools will follow in their sad wake? There's no telling, any more than what a bright future has been lost for some of our Arkansas' most deserving but under-served kids.
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