Sen. Kamala Harris rolled out two new policy proposals Friday aimed at closing the wealth gap among black Americans, focused on investing in higher education and entrepreneurship.
As the only graduate of a historically black college and university running in the 2020 presidential race, the Howard University alum proposed what her campaign calls “the next major planks in her black agenda.”
Unveiling the policy at the National Urban League conference in Indianapolis, the California Democrat said she wants to invest $60 billion in science, technology, engineering and math education at historically black college and universities.
“We’re going from the doors to many of our country’s prestigious colleges and professions being closed to our community to new investments that educate the next generation of black leaders,” Harris said.
Addressing the crowd, mostly made up of black attendees, she added, “Now, in the midst of a technical and technological and digital revolution, we must ensure that everyone participates in the wealth that it creates.”
To a room of applause, Harris cited the conditions of outdated labs on campuses across the country as part of her motivation.
In 2016, the US Department of Education found African American students received about 8% of all STEM bachelor’s degrees and only 4.5% of STEM doctorates. In 2011, the department found that just 6% of the STEM workforce was black.
“We have to reverse this trend,” said a Harris campaign fact sheet released to reporters.
“With access to proper resources, HBCUs and other MSIs (minority serving institutions) can be hubs of activity for STEM research and learning.” The fact sheet added that “we can create a pipeline for ensuring that Black Americans are leading the research and entrepreneurship to grow our innovation economy and participate in the wealth that it generates.”
The $60 billion higher education proposal would be divided into $10 billion for an infrastructure grant program to help build classrooms, labs and other facilities and $50 billion to fund scholarships, fellowships and research.
Harris also pledged to work with Congress to create a $12 billion capital grant and technical support program, to facilitate startup minority small businesses. Part of her entrepreneurial plan involves student loan debt forgiveness for Pell grant recipients who start businesses that operate for three years in disadvantaged communities.
On the campaign trail, Harris has spoken to African American girls about the importance of a STEM education in the 21st century. “It’s like learning how to drive: You got to learn how to code,” Harris told a group of black girls in North Charleston, SC. “OK, will you take some coding classes? Even one. OK? You’re on the same page with me?”
In her policy rollout, Harris also expanded on a teacher pay plan she unveiled in March, proposing an additional $2.5 billion to support HBCU programs that train black teachers.
The Harris campaign did not tell CNN how these proposals would be funded.
LaTeri McFadden, a member of the National Urban League, commended Harris for the initiatives, but questioned how she intends to pay for it.
“My biggest question was where was the $60 billion coming from that would be given to the HBCUs,” McFadden told CNN after Harris’ remarks.
An undecided voter who graduated from Bowie State University, McFadden said she would greatly appreciate funds for her alma mater along with other HBCU institutions, but she was still concerned about the details.
“As a person who pays taxes, I would want to know where’s this money coming from that will be poured into the schools,” she said.