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Texas Warned on Cuts to Historically Black Schools

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In April, Gov. Rick Perry received a letter from Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, reminding him of the state's commitment to Prairie View A&M University and Texas Southern University.

Ali makes the case that, stemming from a mix of federal legislation, legal precedent and voluntary commitment, Texas has an obligation to strengthen historically black colleges and universities — which both Prairie View and Texas Southern are — and to "eliminate the vestiges of segregation."

Currently, approximately 89 percent of Texas Southern's undergraduates are black. At Prairie View, it's about 87 percent. In her letter, Ali notes that historically black colleges and universities produce "a large number of all African-American professionals, including half of all African-American public school teachers."

While Ali observes that Texas has made significant progress at these institutions in the last decade, she writes, "Nevertheless, there is more work to be done." As Ali lays out, the obligation does not end with the elimination of past and present consequences of discrimination. With an eye toward the future, the expectation is that these institutions "should also be attractive to students of all races."

On the other hand, Texas is in a period of substantial belt-tightening as it grapples with a massive budget shortfall, and funding for higher education is being cut across the board. However, Ali warns that Texas may violate the law if "reductions in funding for Texas Southern or Prairie View that impair either institution's ability to fulfill its mission" occur.

Ali also writes that her office and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board have worked well together in the past to promote both institutions and indicated that such efforts, should they continue "can become a model of what is possible when States and the Federal Government collaborate to ensure educational excellence and opportunity for all."

Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said in an e-mail, "This session, every state agency and program is being reviewed by the Legislature as lawmakers continue to work to streamline state government and scrub the budget." She added that the governor is committed to working with lawmakers to ensure that "at the end of the day, we have a balanced budget that protects essential services, including education, without raising taxes."

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, Texas Southern president John Rudley and Prairie View president George Wright each received copies of the letter, which is available in full below:

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