Howard County schools system's proposed cuts to the the Black Student Achievement and Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement programs have rattled members of the NAACP, and many spoke out against the decision during a Board of Education public hearing last week.
The cuts, identified under the Academic Intervention section of the budget, reduces the programs' funding by approximately $51,100. About 10 members of the NAACP Howard County branch, NAACP Youth Council and BSAP graduates testified at the hearing in opposition of the cuts, asking for increased funding.
Willie Flowers, president of the county's NAACP branch, said that while there were no cuts to either programs' staff, the board should replace the cut funds and increase the budget to hire more staff, enable more contracted services and extend the programs to all Title I schools.
"It should happen because just being happy about a rigorous program is not enough," Flowers said to the board. "Both BSAP and MESA provide a foundation for minority students to excel beyond what is expected. … The larger the net of support we create, the fewer students we will see who will slip through the cracks."
Ebony Langford-Brown, executive director of School Improvement and Curricular Programs, said BSAP is among several other programs where funding reductions were made; however, "there's no change in what is happening for our students." The reduction in the budget affects workshop wages for non-salaried staff.
"We have liaisons that are not salaried. They would go to different events for which we would have to pay them workshop wages, Langford-Brown said in a phone interview. "What we usually have non-salaried employees do, our salaried employees will be doing."
At the public hearing, Michele Crosby, a mother of two and a Howard High School graduate, reiterated the testimony of Flowers and Butler, adding that the BSAP program creates a safe environment for black students to face and overcome everyday challenges. Crosby said she participated in the BSAP program in 1987 and 1988. Teacher Gloria Wallace founded the program in 1986.
"As a result of the program, African American history was offered as a standalone class for the first time at Howard High School," Crosby said. "It was the first time I was in the classroom with the majority of people who looked like me. … It boosted my self-esteem to learn more about the history of Africans in America than simply about their enslavement."
Crosby said her son, a freshman at Howard High, participates in the program and was recently recognized at Celebration of Excellence for his academic achievement.
"My son is a legacy," she said. "Unfortunately, systemic bias against black students is also still a pervasive legacy in our country and it seeps into all of our school systems. Imagine the challenge my young black sons face as they try to reconcile their friendly, thoughtful, quiet spoken demeanor with the violent, uncaring imagines of young black boys persistently portrayed in the media."
This story has been updated.