Though the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship can pay eligible students from the Pittsburgh Public School District up to $40,000 for in-state college or technical training, its original, primary goal was to lure families with school-aged children into the city to increase the tax base. If families already in the city took advantage of the program, fine.
Many, however, assumed that with Blacks constituting a majority in the school district, many African American students would get the scholarships and an educational opportunity they otherwise could not have afforded.
But that has not been the case—especially for Black males in the district. The primary reason continues to be that fewer Black males are meeting the attendance and grade requirements to be eligible: 90 percent attendance and, more problematically, a minimum 2.5 GPA.
After having met with Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril, Joseph Kennedy, founder of the Riverbends Genealogical Society, said he is fed up because the Promise has locked in racial disparities.
“I don’t think they appreciate the depths of the disparities,” he said. “And this exacerbates them. It’s clear that Black students are not at the forefront of thought. I believe they should be the primary focus instead of an awkward afterthought.”
The Promise’s website shows that since its initial rollout, of the 4,777 in the core program who earned scholarships, 607 are Black males, that’s roughly 13 percent. White males have, for the moment, barely beaten out Black females for second place—1,179 to 1,174, and White females lead with 1,487.
“Two thirds of the kids in the district are at least as African American as President Obama, but two-thirds of the money goes to White students,” said Kennedy.
“True they can’t change school district policy, true. And they can’t change policy if they remain silent. Their mission statement says they are supposed to ‘promote the reform of urban schools so that our young people are prepared for meaningful lives.’ It has no plan to reform, and has no plan, and has dedicated no money to the nonexistent plan.”
Despite creating an extension program at the Community College of Allegheny County for graduates with GPAs between 2.0-2.5 resulting in scholarships for an additional 226 Black males and 285 Black females, a local genealogist remains convinced that the program is inherently racist and that the GPA requirement should be abandoned.
Saleem Ghubril said last month on Mark Brentley’s Propaganda Alert public access television show that achieving a 2.5 in Pittsburgh Public Schools “isn’t hard to do.”
“And Joe’s ignoring these numbers; 2,100 Black and Brown kids have earned $23 million in scholarships,” he said. “That’s 48 percent. So, two-thirds of the money is not going to White students. It’s not where we want it to be yet.
“I am now even more firmly convinced that the Pittsburgh Promise is knowingly and actively engaged in systematic discrimination against Black students,” Kennedy wrote. “It is exceedingly unfortunate that it is either unable or unwilling to acknowledge and fix this discrimination.”
Brentley, noted that the original program on which the Promise is based—the Kalamazoo Promise—has no GPA or attendance requirement, and that a 2011 study from the University of Pittsburgh Center For Race and Social Problems agreed with Kennedy on eliminating the requirements.
Ghubril said he wants to improve preparation and support before changing the criteria for eligibility. He noted the We Promise, a mentoring program in the schools, has improved GPAs for eligible Black students by 40 percent.
Kennedy said Ghubril is asking for more time to continue failing.
“I can’t imagine an African American community in any other major city putting up with this,” he said. “I have attempted to reach out to the executive director. Since I have failed, I will have to directly reach out to the board of directors.”
Kennedy has also created a Facebook page called fixthepittsburghpromise, which currently has 124 members, many of whom are White.
“Things are so bad, even White people see there’s a problem,” he said.
Like Brentley, former Pittsburgh School Director Randall Taylor, said he respects Ghubril immensely, but agrees with the Pitt study recommendations to drop the GPA and attendance criteria.
“If for year after year you don’t hit the target, you should make it universal,” he said.
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