Since 1976, the U.S. government has provided billions of dollars each year to help low-income youngsters pay for college. But over a long career John McCain has cast at least 26 Senate votes that would weaken or undermine access to the Pell Grant program.
Today there are 2 million Hispanic youngsters in college and 15 million Hispanic children who have not reached college age. If elected president, John McCain’s opposition to the Pell Grant program would severely blight the higher education prospects of the children of 20 million Hispanic adults in the United States.
This fall, Hispanic parents and other Latino voters should use their immense numbers to deny the presidency to McCain.
A dedicated and well-organized voting bloc of 20 million Hispanic American citizens, all fully informed of the severe burdens John McCain’s pernicious policies are inflicting on millions of their children and grandchildren, could end the contest and finally deliver the White House to Barack Obama.
How the Hispanic Vote Could Deliver the
Margin of Victory to Barack Obama
Over a long career John McCain has cast at least 26 Senate votes that would severely blight the higher education prospects of the children of 20 million Hispanic adults in the United States.
This fall, these parents should use their immense voting numbers to deny the presidency to McCain.
by Theodore Cross
Over the past 15 years there have been remarkable gains by African Americans in higher education. The number of black students enrolled in colleges and universities has grown from 1.2 million to over 2 million.
Though still disappointing, African-American college graduation rates also have improved by more than 30 percent.
These successes are due in important part to Pell Grants, the innovative federal program through which, since 1976, the U.S. government has provided billions of dollars each year to help low-income youngsters pay for college. Total Pell Grant appropriations are about $15 billion each year.
Today, there are about 2 million Hispanics enrolled in American colleges and universities. Huge numbers of them would not be there but for the support of Pell Grants.
But coming along behind them are 15 million or more Hispanic-American youngsters in kindergarten through grade 12. Granted that large numbers of these school-age children are receiving education of the lowest quality. Yet today Hispanic-American parents have reasonable, and deeply treasured, expectations that many of their children will realize the huge benefit of a college education.
As do almost all Americans, Latino parents know that a college education has now replaced the high school diploma as the ticket to the American Dream. But the realization of this dream is highly dependent on a strong, generous, and well-administered Pell Grant program.
Let’s consider the meaning of the American Dream in economic terms. We know from U.S. Census figures that when young Hispanic Americans succeed in graduating from college, they will, on average, enjoy throughout their lives what is known as "the college premium." This premium is the very high probability, consistently demonstrated by census data, that their lifetime incomes will be 100 percent or more higher than if they hadn’t gone to college.
Understand that this exciting expectation does not require graduation from such elite colleges as Harvard, Yale, or Stanford. To win the college premium, it is not even necessary for young Hispanics to graduate from a flagship state university such as the University of Arizona, the University of Nevada, or the University of New Mexico. It’s the college diploma that counts. The American economy awards the college premium to Hispanic graduates from what are commonly known as second- and third-tier institutions.
For millions of Hispanic Americans the great barrier to higher education is not only substandard K-12 education but the inability to pay for college. Hispanic families tend to face severe economic problems. Most of these families cannot afford to send their children to college without gallons of outside financial support: federal aid, state aid, or scholarship assistance from a chosen college or university.
As mentioned, the good news is that already the nation has taken important actions to deal with this problem. It is estimated that more than 700,000 Hispanic students — more than 40 percent of all Hispanic undergraduate students — are currently receiving federal Pell Grant awards with total grants to Hispanic youngsters of probably $2 billion each year.
Americans are justifiably proud of this great legislative achievement. For racial minorities a good case can be made that the federal Pell Grant program has been the most successful force in raising educational opportunities in our country since the spectacular success of the G.I. Bill of Rights in the post-World War II years.
Now we come to the most critical point in the story. Over a period of 22 years, Senator John McCain, the current GOP candidate for president of the United States, has steadfastly used his considerable legislative powers to cast votes aimed to curb or slow down the ability of Pell Grant legislation to help impoverished Hispanic and other low-income youngsters go to college.
Let’s be specific. If one examines the Congressional Record, one finds that on no fewer than 26 occasions John McCain has voted against proposals either to strengthen Pell Grant benefits or against amendments that would increase access to this important college assistance program.
This is a matter of amazement since McCain is a senator from Arizona where 26 percent of the residents are of Hispanic origin.
Here are some examples of McCain’s demonstrated hostility to the federal Pell Grant college assistance program:
• In 2007 McCain voted against the College Cost Reduction and Access Act which would have boosted Pell Grant funding and other programs to increase access to higher education for Hispanics and other minorities. Most Republican senators voted for the legislation that McCain opposed. The legislation was passed by a veto-proof margin.
• In 2006 McCain voted no on an amendment that would have modestly raised the maximum Pell Grant award and provided funds for college access programs for minority students.
• In 2005 McCain voted to oppose a Democratic proposal to raise the maximum Pell Grant award by a mere $200.
• In 2004 McCain refused to back a proposal to link the maximum Pell Grant award to the rate of inflation and to extend the program to an additional 500,000 new students.
• In 2003 McCain voted no on an amendment that would have indexed federal financial aid programs, including Pell Grants, to the annual average increase in college tuition and fees.
• In 2001 McCain was one of only seven senators to vote against an appropriations bill that included increased funding for Pell Grants and several other education programs.
• In 2001 McCain decided not to support an amendment that would have tied the reduction in the top income tax rate to an increase in Pell Grant funding.
• In 1995 McCain voted no on a bill that would have restored funding to the Pell Grant program that had been cut in a previous amendment.
• In 1993 McCain voted no on legislation that required the federal government to insure the financial integrity of the Pell Grant program before funding any new educational program.
• In 1989 McCain was one of only 19 senators to oppose the appropriations bill funding the Department of Education for fiscal year 1990. Included in this funding bill was money for Pell Grants and other financial assistance grants.
But McCain’s longstanding hostility to Pell Grants does not tell the full story. There are other important sources of federal aid for low-income college students including federal Perkins loans and Stafford loans. Here, too, McCain has consistently voted to restrict the educational opportunities of low-income and minority students. For example:
• In 2006 McCain voted against an amendment that would have increased funding for the Perkins loan program.
• In 2003 McCain opposed linking funding for the Perkins and Stafford loan programs to an index that measures the rising costs of higher education.
In the past eight years McCain has had 26 opportunities to vote to increase the level of financial aid for Hispanic and other low-income college students. Not once did McCain vote in favor of increasing funds or improving access to these assistance programs.
There are few United States senators on either side of the aisle with a more persistent record of voting in opposition to Pell Grants and other federal financial aid programs aimed at increasing the educational opportunities of Hispanics and other low-income students.
It is true that on two occasions McCain voted for measures that included a Pell Grant increase. In one case he did so as an accommodation to his Arizona Senate colleague John Kyl. In another case the Pell Grant increase was tied to a tax cut measure that McCain supported.
Recently McCain’s opposition to the educational goals of mostly low-income students has taken an explicitly racial bite. Last month he announced his support for a ballot measure in Arizona that would end race-based affirmative action in the admissions of students at state-operated universities. Obviously, this ban would have a severe, and disproportionate, impact on the college opportunities of young Hispanics.
Over 30 years or more, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Hispanic students throughout the country have benefited from affirmative action programs still in effect in at least 300 colleges and universities. If McCain becomes president, his past 22-year record in the Senate sends a clear signal that he will use his powers as president to support bans on race-sensitive admissions across this country. This would dramatically limit for many years ahead the higher educational opportunities for racial minorities and particularly Latino Americans.
Now assume that 20 million Hispanic Americans become informed of John McCain’s 20-year opposition to Pell Grants and other assistance programs that are critical to the educational opportunities of their children. How are they likely to vote?
Let’s first gauge the huge potential voting power of Latinos in America. There are 45 million Hispanics of all ages in the United States. They are the nation’s largest minority group making up a solid 15 percent of the entire population. Two thirds of all Hispanic adults in the United States — about 20 million in total — are now American citizens with full voting rights. There are, of course, many factors that will control their votes. But in most cases, the future prospects of their children must rank at the very top. It is difficult to believe that Hispanic parents, once informed of the solidly repressive voting record of John McCain, will cast their ballots for a man who has consistently supported initiatives that would damage the educational opportunities of their children.
Surely, no American politician who over a long period has unabashedly voted to undercut the educational opportunities of young Hispanic Americans should have even the remotest claim on the votes of their parents. Any political threat of explicit harm to the hopes and destinies of these children must inevitably eat away, and in the end destroy, any other reason why a Latino parent or grandparent today might want to vote for John McCain.
All the evidence is that Hispanic-American students are hungry for a college education. Consider especially the results of a study by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan New York City-based research group. The study concluded that Hispanic parents are twice as likely as whites to rank a college education as the single most important factor in a young person’s success.
We see then that McCain’s destructive record of opposition to Pell Grants presents a huge tactical gift to the Obama campaign. There is now a clear opportunity for Obama supporters to show that for 20 years McCain has determinedly held to policies that are unequivocally harmful to a voting bloc of 20 million Hispanic Americans representing 15 percent of the American voting public.
To fully inform Hispanic Americans of the damage a McCain presidency would have on the educational opportunities of their children, Obama could deliver a major speech on education in Phoenix, Denver, or Albuquerque. This would be a landmark address in which he would demonstrate how his opponent John McCain has made a career of voting against the opportunities of millions of Hispanics to win Americans’ most valuable prize — a college education.
Barack Obama and his campaign managers, too, must inform Hispanic voters of Obama’s comprehensive and thoughtful plan for enlarging the funding of the Pell Grant program and for increasing educational access for Hispanics and other minority students. These voters also need to know that the very first bill Obama introduced as a U.S. senator was to increase the maximum Pell Grant award.
But Obama’s established proposals promise much more. Here are some details:
• Obama’s plan includes a $4,000 tax credit — not a deduction — for parents of every child they have in college. This tax credit directly benefits low-income Hispanic families because it reduces the tax they have to pay by a full $4,000.
• Obama also plans to simplify the process to apply for financial aid. The present application is five pages long and includes 127 questions. Often the forms are confusing, particularly for parents who themselves did not go to college. Gaining the appropriate information is also difficult for Hispanic families who are not proficient in the English language.
• Obama has pledged that as president he will increase funding for Pell Grants and to index the maximum Pell Grant award to the rising cost of higher education, which is often more than the general rate of inflation.
• Obama plans a community college partnership program to provide grants to two-year schools to create academic programs that are more relevant to the workplace Hispanic students will find once they complete their education. This is of particular importance to Hispanics because 52 percent of all Latino college students attend two-year institutions compared to 35 percent of white students enrolled in college.
It is rare, of course, that the voting power of a single American constituency is capable of delivering an election to a particular candidate. Yet a significant surge in voting among 20 million eligible Hispanic-American voters could, in fact, create a landslide victory for Obama.
Here are some voting scenarios. Let’s say that 15 million Hispanics — 75 percent of all eligible Hispanic-American voters — go to the polls on Election Day this November. Let’s say, too, they intend to give 60 percent of their votes to Obama and 40 percent to McCain. (George Bush won about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.) This would be 9 million Hispanic votes for Obama and 6 million Hispanic votes for McCain. It seems entirely logical, if not compelling, that when these Hispanic voters are confronted with the irrefutable fact that McCain has been a consistent and longstanding obstacle to the chances of their children going to college, very large numbers of them will shift their vote to Obama.
If Obama is able to boost his percentage of the Hispanic vote to 75 percent to McCain’s 25 percent, the breakdown would be 11,250,000 Hispanic votes for Obama and 3,750,000 Hispanic votes for McCain. This is a huge 5 million vote swing in Obama’s margin among Hispanics.
But in the United States, presidents are not elected by the national popular vote. They are elected based on 51 separate contests held in each state and the District of Columbia. So let’s consider the probable impact of a shift of Hispanic votes from McCain to Obama at the state level when Hispanics are informed of John McCain’s pernicious record in opposition to increased educational opportunities for low-income Hispanic youngsters.
Here is the situation in the key battleground states.
• For the Obama campaign, Florida is a "must-win" state. Obama has 200 full-time staffers in Florida but the most recent polls show McCain in the lead in Florida. In Florida there are 1.7 million eligible Hispanic voters. As many as 800,000 of them are not registered to vote. Even a 10 percent shift in the votes of Hispanics from McCain to Obama could shift the state from red to blue. In fact, Florida’s 27 electoral votes alone could swing the nationwide presidential election to Obama.
• Ohio may be the most critical swing state in the nation. George Bush won the state by a small margin in 2004. In Ohio there are 171,000 eligible Hispanic voters. If Obama were to win all the states won by John Kerry, a shift of Ohio to Obama would give him the White House. While Hispanics are a small percentage of the total electorate in Ohio, a solid surge in the Hispanic vote could safely swing the state’s 20 electoral votes to Obama.
• There are more than 400,000 eligible Hispanic voters in Colorado. More than 150,000 remain unregistered to vote. Colorado has traditionally been a red state in presidential elections but Democrats in recent years have made major inroads in statewide elections. Increased Hispanic registrations have helped move the state of Colorado toward the Democrats.
• In Nevada, there are 200,000 adult Hispanic voters who are U.S. citizens. Less than half are registered to vote. Recent presidential elections in Nevada have been extremely close. McCain’s support of storing nuclear waste in Nevada does not help him with many white voters in the state. Increased Hispanic support for Obama could very well make the difference in this state.
• In New Mexico, Hispanics make up 33 percent of the state’s eligible voters. More than 150,000 Hispanics there have not registered to vote. With such a huge percentage of the electorate, a unified Hispanic vote for Obama in New Mexico would make it very difficult for McCain to carry the state.
• Michigan, too, is a critical swing state, narrowly won by John Kerry in 2004. There are more than 200,000 eligible Hispanic voters in Michigan. Here, even a modest increase in the Hispanic vote could keep the state safe for Obama.
• In Pennsylvania, another critical swing state, the polls show a very close race this year. There are more than a quarter-million eligible Hispanic voters in Pennsylvania. Even a modest surge in the Hispanic vote in Pennsylvania assures the state will be in the Obama column.
If we assume Obama holds all the so-called blue states won by John Kerry in 2004, an increased Hispanic vote for Obama resulting from voter concern over McCain’s consistent opposition to Pell Grants could swing to Obama five battleground states that went for Bush in 2004. They are Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, and Florida. With this result Obama would amass a comfortable 318 to 220 vote margin in the Electoral College.
But Obama does not need all of these states to win the presidency. Even small shifts in the votes of Hispanics could lead to an Obama victory in the presidential election. Here is a scenario where the Hispanic vote for Obama in just three western states could swing the election to Obama.
Let’s now assume that Barack Obama will win all the states won by John Kerry in 2004. This gives him 252 electoral votes. As stated, there are large blocs of Hispanic voters in Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico, all states that were won by George Bush in 2004. Assume that very large percentages of Hispanic voters in these three states are convinced that John McCain as president would do serious harm to the educational opportunities of their children and as a result they switch their votes to Obama. Then the Democratic ticket would pick up 19 electoral votes and produce a 271-267 Electoral College victory for Obama.
In the Electoral College there are many combinations and alignments in which a nationwide surge in Hispanic-American votes for Obama could put an end to the candidacy of John McCain.
McCain made a huge mistake many years ago when he cast his first of at least 26 votes against Pell Grants. Now, in the current election, this long history of unyielding opposition to Pell Grants could easily become his Achilles heel. A stunning opportunity for a decisive Obama victory lies in the deep concern of 20 million Hispanic Americans for the future of their children and in the wrath they must experience as a result of John McCain’s 22-year effort to deny college assistance support for Hispanic children.
Here then is exciting potential for the Obama campaign. The number of eligible Hispanic-American votes is huge — large enough to change the political landscape. A dedicated and well-organized voting bloc of 20 million Hispanic Americans, fully informed of the severe burdens John McCain’s repressive policies are inflicting on millions of their children and grandchildren, could end the contest and deliver the White House to Barack Obama.
Theodore Cross is editor of The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.