Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax County, was looking through the state code a few years ago when she came across something interesting: Virginia has a scholarship fund for the people who were denied education when some localities shut their schools rather than integrate in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
At the time, she was searching to see if Virginia had any scholarships for veterinary students — “we have a shocking lack of them,” the longtime animal welfare advocate says. She never found one of those, but she did find the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Fund.
In the context of Virginia history, the fund is relatively new, set up by the General Assembly in 2004, six years before Kory took office. It began with $1.1 million from the state and a $1 million donation from Charlottesville philanthropist John Kluge.
By the time Kory discovered it, it was clear that the fund, however well-intentioned, had an actuarial problem: It was going to run out of students long before it ran out of money.
During the era we remember as Massive Resistance, four jurisdictions infamously shuttered their schools: Charlottesville, Norfolk, Prince Edward County and Warren County. Three of those — Charlottesville, Norfolk and Warren County — were closed for less than one school year. Prince Edward, though, saw its schools close in 1959 and not reopen until 1964. That means by the time the scholarship fund was established, 50 years had elapsed since the last students had no place to go. Even first graders back then, at age 6, would have been 46, not exactly the prime go-to-college age. Those in high school back then would have been in their late 50s. Those who were in high school in 1959 would have been in their 60s.
Nonetheless, over the years, 88 students have taken advantage of the fund, but the number keeps falling as age takes its inevitable toll. For the past seven years, the number of students receiving scholarships has been in single digits, with the number falling to just two for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years. A fund that began with just over $2 million still had about half that amount left: $989,185.
For Kory, the solution seemed obvious. This year, she introduced a bill to extend the benefits to the descendants of those denied schooling. The theory: If their parents or grandparents had been able to finish high school and go on to college, their children would have started at a different place in life than they did. The effect of those school closings was generational.
It turns out that Kory wasn’t the only one looking at this fund. Once her bill was introduced, she had a visitor. Bianca Casper had grown up in Prince Edward County, where the school closings had lasted the longest. Her family wasn’t affected — they were from Nottoway County — but she had relatives who had been denied education. This history was personal to her.
In 2020, the Virginia Commonwealth University graduate was a student in the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, which aims to educate those interested in public service about some of the issues they might face. Hundreds of Sorensen grads have gone on to serve in government in some capacity. One of the course requirements was a policy project; Casper chose the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Fund — and wrote a paper proposing just what Kory had introduced, expanding the fund to descendants.
When Kory introduced her bill, Casper was working as an aide to then-state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. (She’s still an aide to McClellan, who has moved on to Congress.) When Casper saw Kory’s bill in the General Assembly database, “I took a trip downstairs,” she said, to meet with Kory. At the time, the bill had no Senate sponsor. Before long, it did: Casper’s boss, McClellan.
The way Kory tells it, Casper made a lot of trips downstairs. “She was so excited, she kept coming by my office several times a week to ask about the progress,” Kory says.
She says another visitor was Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper County. “He said he would support it if I was willing to add language that when it was empty it would cease to exist. I didn’t really want to do that. I said I’d think about it. But he did not press that so it went sailing through.” (Freitas did not respond to inquiries about the bill.) The original bill in 2004, sponsored then by state Sen. Benjamin Lambert and Del. Viola Baskerville, both D-Richmond, passed unanimously. So did this one.
“I asked the governor if he would have a bill-signing [ceremony],” Kory says. “I thought it would be good for everyone. … I thought it might be good PR for the governor.” Instead, she says, “I didn’t hear back.”
Without fanfare, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the bill into law on March 26. It goes into effect July 1.
Last week, the committee overseeing the fund met for the first time since 2019. There hasn’t been business to conduct since then. Last week there was: The board approved a scholarship application from a student eligible under the original language. That will make three students receiving funds this fall, one at Liberty University, one at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, and wherever the third student winds up. But there was other business, too — the process of figuring out how to handle this expansion in eligibility.
Nobody knows how many students will now be eligible, so nobody knows what to expect. The committee worries that a surge of applicants will deplete the fund. There was discussion about whether to put a cap on the amount of money awarded per student, whether to make the scholarships need-based and whether to favor applicants going into high-demand fields. No decisions were made on any of that, pending further study. The panel did decide to put off implementation until the 2024-2025 academic year to give members time to work out all these details. There is one known restriction on the fund: Applicants must be Virginia residents.
It turns out that Kory’s decision not to put an end date on the fund might be significant. She’d like to see some mechanism for private fundraising to replenish the fund. Meanwhile, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, have submitted a budget request (popularly called an “earmark”) for the federal government to contribute $1 million to the fund. We won’t know about that until later this year — in a perfect world, Congress would actually pass a budget by the time the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, but we all know that Congress is pretty imperfect about that.
Meanwhile, Casper has another idea that she’d like to see get some traction: “Honestly I think there needs to be a JLARC study to study the effects of Massive Resistance. I don’t think it’s ever been done.” JLARC is the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the General Assembly’s watchdog agency. Every year it produces multiple well-researched reports that usually discomfit some branch of government that comes up short on performance. This would be an interesting request for the green eyeshade types at JLARC: Just what were the economic repercussions of that unfortunate era? And how do they still add up today? Politicians left and right can debate whether there’s such a thing as structural racism but there are few who can argue against a JLARC report. It’s an agency that seems to have bipartisan respect (even if both parties also ignore its findings when they don’t fit their presumptions). Kory won’t be around to introduce this; she’s retiring after this term. I wonder if anyone else will take up this idea?