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President to appoint Sarah Huckabee Sanders as member of Fulbright board

Grateful for the opportunity, she says by Frank E. Lockwood | October 21, 2019 at 7:11 a.m.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump plans to appoint a former press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, to serve on the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the White House announced last week.

The 12-member body oversees the Fulbright Program, which the U.S. State Department has branded "the most widely recognized and prestigious international exchange program in the world."

Reached by text message, the Little Rock resident said she looks forward to serving.

"Education is vital to America's future. I spent two years working at the [U.S.] Department of Education in the [George W.] Bush administration and I'm grateful to President Trump for the opportunity to be named to a leadership role in this great scholarship program established by a U.S. Senator from Arkansas," she wrote.

The Fulbright Program operates in more than 160 countries around the world, awarding roughly 8,000 grants each year.

About 370,000 people have participated in the program.

Sanders' father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, called the appointment "a wonderful honor" and a recognition of his daughter's longtime interest in education.

Sanders will be joined by Shahira E. Knight of Washington, who served most recently as assistant to the president and director of legislative affairs.

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Both women left the White House in June. Sanders' term on the board ends on Sept. 22, 2022.

Fulbright, a former University of Arkansas president as well as an alumnus, became a U.S. senator in 1945, the same year that the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and imperial Japan.

The freshman Democrat helped to secure passage, in 1946, of legislation to create what is now known as the Fulbright Program. Initially funded by the sale of surplus war property, the program had a goal of promoting "international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science," according to the program's website.

Fifteen years later, Congress passed the Mutual Education and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961. Also known as the Fulbright-Hays Act, it helped the program grow and extend its geographic reach.

The president appoints members of the program's board.

Until recently, former U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., was a member. Appointed by President Barack Obama in the final days of his administration, Pryor served as the board's vice chairman in 2018.

U.S. Rep. French Hill, a Republican from Little Rock, called Sanders "an excellent addition" to the board.

"Her distinguished career in public service reflects the important mission of the Fulbright Program," he said in a written statement. "Arkansans can be proud that one of our own is helping American students connect to the world through the power of education."

The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Program's primary source of funding, has been targeted for budget cuts by the Trump administration.

The White House Office of Management and Budget argued in 2017 that "the need for federally funded educational and cultural exchanges has decreased significantly given the number of exchange students both coming to the United States and studying abroad without Federal support."

Last year and again this year, it made similar arguments; most recently, it sought to reduce annual funding for State Department educational and cultural exchanges from $701 million to $310 million.

The pitches haven't swayed Congress; funding for the programs continues to rise.

Pryor, who left the board earlier this year, said Fulbright Program investments pay dividends.

"The program has a proven track record of building stronger relationships with other countries and it is important to keep it funded because it furthers U.S. foreign policy goals," he said in a text.

It's also a magnet for talent.

"Fulbright alums include 59 Nobel Prize winners, 37 heads of state (9 current), 86 Pulitzer Prize winners, 16 Presidential Medal of Freedom winners and members of Congress from both parties," Pryor added.

A Section on 10/21/2019

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