New fund­ing mea­sure alarms sup­port­ers of his­tor­i­cally black schools

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR. AND SU­SAN SVRLUGA cleve.wootson@wash­post.com su­san.svrluga@wash­post.com John Wag­ner con­trib­uted to this re­port. More at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ news/grade-point

In Fe­bru­ary, President Trump in­vited lead­ers from his­tor­i­cally black col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to the White House, a move they hoped sig­naled his sup­port for the in­sti­tu­tions and showed an ef­fort to give them more clout in his ad­min­is­tra­tion. But crit­ics had a more cyn­i­cal de­scrip­tion of the Oval Of­fice meet­ing: a photo op.

Those naysay­ers got more am­mu­ni­tion Fri­day after the White House re­leased a sign­ing state­ment con­nected to the re­cently ap­proved fed­eral fund­ing mea­sure. Tucked away in the last para­graph, the White House an­nounced that it would treat a pro­gram that helps HBCUs get low­cost con­struc­tion loans “in a man­ner con­sis­tent with the [con­sti­tu­tional] re­quire­ment to af­ford equal pro­tec­tion of the laws.”

Peo­ple in higher-ed­u­ca­tion cir­cles wor­ried that the state­ment meant that the president was plan­ning to get rid of a cap­i­tal­fi­nanc­ing pro­gram that helps his­tor­i­cally black col­leges re­pair, ren­o­vate and build new fa­cil­i­ties. Congress ap­proved the pro­gram in 1992 after find­ing that “HBCUs of­ten face sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges in ac­cess­ing tra­di­tional fund­ing re­sources at rea­son­able rates,” ac­cord­ing to the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment.

“I would rather have Trump do noth­ing with HBCUs — not even know they ex­ist,” Mary­beth Gas­man, a Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia pro­fes­sor who has re­searched HBCU his­tory, told The Washington Post. “He will see them as a hand­out. He doesn’t un­der­stand that he was given a leg up by his rich fa­ther. He doesn’t see that other peo­ple need help from pro­grams be­cause of past dis­crim­i­na­tion and in­equity.”

Trump’s sign­ing state­ment was blasted by Rep. John Cony­ers Jr. of Michi­gan, rank­ing Demo­crat on the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, and Rep. Cedric L. Rich­mond (D-La.), the chair­man of the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus.

“Trump’s state­ment is not only mis­in­formed fac­tu­ally, it is not grounded in any se­ri­ous con­sti­tu­tional anal­y­sis,” their joint state­ment said. “For a President who pledged to reach out to African Amer­i­cans and other mi­nori­ties, this state­ment is stun­ningly care­less and di­vi­sive. We urge him to re­con­sider im­me­di­ately.”

The White House on Satur­day said that none of the ob­jec­tions cited in Trump’s sign­ing state­ment sig­naled im­me­di­ate pol­icy changes but were in­tended to pre­serve the president’s le­gal op­tions down the line.

“Like his pre­de­ces­sors, in­clud­ing President Obama, President Trump has iden­ti­fied cer­tain pro­vi­sions in the ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill that could, in some cir­cum­stances, con­flict with his con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity and du­ties,” a White House state­ment said. “The brief, rou­tine sign­ing state­ment sim­ply in­di­cates that the President will in­ter­pret those pro­vi­sions con­sis­tent with the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

The sign­ing state­ment was no­ticed by the United Ne­gro Col­lege Fund, which told The Post that it had an in­for­mal con­ver­sa­tion with ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials about the HBCU loan pro­gram. The take­away: It’s too soon to worry.

“We’re not overly alarmed at this point, based on in­for­mal re­as­sur­ances and just our own knowl­edge of how th­ese fund­ing state­ments get put to­gether,” said Ch­eryl L. Smith, the UNCF’s se­nior vice president of pub­lic pol­icy and govern­ment af­fairs.

She called the White House’s state­ment part of a “mixed record” from the ad­min­is­tra­tion to­ward HBCUs since Trump took of­fice in Jan­uary.

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos logged her first school visit at Howard Univer­sity, the fed­er­ally char­tered, his­tor­i­cally black col­lege in the District.

And in Fe­bru­ary, after the Oval Of­fice meet­ing with HBCU lead­ers, Vice President Pence told them that “the president and I ad­mire the con­tri­bu­tions of his­tor­i­cally black col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties” and that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that HBCUs “get the credit and at­ten­tion they de­serve.”

But many were of­fended when DeVos is­sued a state­ment after the meet­ing that praised his­tor­i­cally black col­leges as pioneers of school choice. The schools were founded at a time of racial seg­re­ga­tion. DeVos clar­i­fied her re­marks the next day, mak­ing it clear that African Amer­i­cans had very lim­ited ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties at the time HBCUs were started.

At that meet­ing, Repub­li­can law­mak­ers met with nearly all the HBCU pres­i­dents, lis­ten­ing to their con­cerns and pri­or­i­ties. The out­reach from Repub­li­can lead­ers, though, did not trans­late into in­creased fund­ing for the schools in the president’s bud­get.

The ap­pro­pri­a­tions for HBCUs and mi­nor­ity-serv­ing in­sti­tu­tions were not in­creased, Pell Grant re­serves were di­min­ished, and schol­ar­ships, tech­nol­ogy and other in­vest­ments HBCU lead­ers had re­quested.

His­tor­i­cally black col­leges have of­ten looked to Democrats as nat­u­ral al­lies, but over the past 50 years or so, HBCUs have had bi­par­ti­san sup­port, with rel­a­tively steady fund­ing over that time.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment, HBCUs award three­quar­ters of all doc­tor­ates earned by African Amer­i­cans, and three­quar­ters of all black of­fi­cers in the mil­i­tary and 80 per­cent of black fed­eral judges got their un­der­grad­u­ate de­grees at an HBCU.

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