Speaker Robin Vos says he'll move to end minority scholarship program after Supreme Court ruling

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos seen prior to the Assembly Republican presser Wednesday, May 17, 2023, at 2 E. State Capitol in Madison, Wis.
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MADISON - Assembly Speaker Robin Vos indicated Republicans will move to repeal state laws and programs based on race — including a state-run scholarship program for students of color — following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the consideration of race in college admissions.

"We are reviewing the decision and will introduce legislation to correct the discriminatory laws on the books and pass repeals in the fall," Vos, a Republican of Rochester, tweeted Thursday.

Vos was referring to the Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant program, which provides scholarships ranging from $250 to $2,500 to Black, Native American, Hispanic or Southeast Asian students to attend technical colleges, private nonprofit colleges and tribal colleges.

The Higher Educational Aids Board, which administers the program, did not respond to a request for comment. A similar grant program is available for students of color attending University of Wisconsin System schools.

Research shows Black and Hispanic students are more likely to drop out and less likely to graduate compared to their white peers.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit over the scholarship program, including on behalf of a biracial couple who said their son did not qualify. That case is currently in an appeals court.

"I think it was fairly clear before, but now it's doubly clear that any use of race is just not permitted. I don't see how the state could successfully defend that case now," Rick Esenberg, WILL's president and chief counsel, said in an interview.

Esenberg said there is "nothing about (the Supreme Court's) decision that limits it to higher education." WILL believes other state laws and programs with considerations of race are now illegal, including the following:

  • Awarding state contracts with preferences to race.

  • Grants to improve health outcomes among certain racial groups.

  • Dorms and spaces within the University of Wisconsin System intended for certain racial identities.

  • Various grants that help minority-owned businesses.

In response to the Supreme Court's decision Thursday, the University of Wisconsin-Madison said it would modify some of its admissions practices, including eliminating race as part of its evaluation. But the immediate effects on scholarships and financial eligibility were not yet clear.

A UW-Madison page explaining the impact of the decision said the university would review the decision and seek additional guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and UW Board of Regents to determine the impact on scholarships.

At a press conference earlier Thursday, Vos said the high court's decision "bolsters the idea that race as a predominant factor in making decisions in America today is an outdated notion that should not continue. It shouldn't be for hiring, shouldn't be for promotion, shouldn't be for acceptance into the university."

More: Speaker Robin Vos says he's 'embarrassed' to be a UW System alumnus because of campus diversity programs

Democrats criticized the Supreme Court's decision, warning it would result in further racial gaps in higher education.

"We do not live in a colorblind society, nor do I want to live in a colorblind society. I want them to see a Black man. I want them to see all that comes with me being a Black man, the rich tradition I have, the resilience I hold, and the burden sometimes I have to carry, and I want respect," Rep. Supreme Moore Omokunde, D-Milwaukee, said on the Assembly floor.

Vos' plan comes amid a broader Republican push to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the University of Wisconsin System. The state budget, which passed both chambers this week, includes a $32 million cut to the UW System in an attempt to eliminate positions related to DEI.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had previously said he would not sign the budget with the cut to the UW System, but it is unclear whether he still plans to veto the entire budget.

Tyler Katzenberger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Speaker Robin Vos says he'll move to end minority scholarship program