Bethune-Cookman University has faced financial, litigation and accreditation challenges in recent years
cDAYTONA BEACH — In a year when Gov. Ron DeSantis cut $1 billion from the Legislature’s $93.2 billion budget because of pandemic-related revenue uncertainty, a big investment in the state’s private historically Black colleges and universities somehow survived.
That will mean a guaranteed $33 million in annual support for Bethune-Cookman University, Florida Memorial University and Edward Waters College, money the schools say will be critical in allowing them to continue their mission of providing access to higher education.
DeSantis, flanked by a bipartisan group of lawmakers as well as college presidents at a victory tour stop at B-CU on Wednesday, explained his support for the schools when hundreds of other items were redlined.
DeSantis had previously served as Congressman for the 6th District, which includes Daytona Beach, so he was familiar with HBCUs and Bethune-Cookman in particular.
DeSantis noted that the 145th birthday of B-CU founder Mary McLeod Bethune is next week, July 10.
“Her vision for this university and others like it are really why we’re here today, why we all came together to be able to provide this support and so these investments in the budget are significant,” DeSantis said. “The funding will help advance academics, research and education of students at Florida’s HBCUs. … This is an important part of Florida’s history and it’s an important part of having opportunity for all Floridians.”
Bethune-Cookman, which had been receiving $4 million annually, will now get an additional $13 million each year from the state. Edward Waters, in Jacksonville, and Florida in Miami, will each get $3.5 million more in annual state funding.
State Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, was joined onstage by other lawmakers, including Reps. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-DeLand, a House sponsor, and Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, in addition to Sens. Randolph Bracy III, D-Orlando and Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine.
“Action speaks louder than words,” Bush said. “I’m left with no other option but to proclaim this day and to go on record … that I believe Gov. Ron DeSantis, he is a friend to HBCU schools.
Turning to the governor, Bush continued: “What you have done today: You have now put yourself and written yourself into the history books of Black history.”
Brent Chrite, president of Bethune-Cookman, said the message of the state’s commitment goes beyond the dollars.
“The investment in these institutions on the part of the state of Florida is obviously and demonstrably critical, but so, too, are the signal effects with this budget line, the state affirms its recognition of the extraordinary contribution and legacy of these three institutions,” Chrite said.
Bethune-Cookman — which has been beset by financial, litigation, accreditation problems in recent years — has been on the brink of closing and “existential challenges” remain, Chrite said.
“These challenges are only matched by the utter necessity of our work and the recognition of the role we assume in bridging the gap between ability and access for some of the state’s most vulnerable, marginalized and brilliant students,” he said.
Bethune, who famously started B-CU as the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Girls in 1904 with nothing but faith in God, $1.50 and five students, “is somebody that really should be an inspiration to everybody in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
“This is post ’Bellum. Huge obstacles. You have freed men going, and folks are digging in, doing all they can to give people an opportunity in spite of huge odds,” DeSantis said. “Yeah, we passed the post-Civil War amendments. That did not solve all the problems — and so they did that and fought and fought against big obstacles, and Mary McLeod at the beginning of the 20th century, and so I think those are folks that we should really look to and understand.
“When you have obstacle after obstacle and you keep your nose to the grindstone … that is what I think America is all about.”
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