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Betsy DeVos released a statement praising the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) as a model of choice and hinting not to expect any new federal funds. Leaders were baffled and outraged, because HBCUs were created not as a “choice,” but in response to “no choice at all,” when black students were excluded from higher education.
“Most of the statement is innocuous. She praises black colleges. In perhaps a sign not to expect too much money from the Trump administration, she says, “[r]ather than focus solely on funding, we must be willing to make the tangible, structural reforms that will allow students to reach their full potential.” And she notes that black colleges were created when “there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education.”
“But DeVos goes on to link black colleges to the issue of school choice — a cause for which she is an advocate. “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” she said. “They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”
“While that summarizes the school choice argument, social media lit up late Monday with supporters of black colleges noting that the institutions were founded because black students had, in many respects, no choice. They could not enroll at predominantly white institutions in the South, even public institutions in their own states. Further, as states created public historically black colleges, they did so to meet “separate but equal” requirements, and never took the equal part of that statement seriously. Public black colleges were created with a fraction of the budgets, programs and facilities of their predominantly white counterparts. While many students did thrive at these institutions, educators there constantly decried the lack of resources (and many maintain that continues to this day).”
Social media lit up.
Slate published an article called “Insane Betsy DeVos Press Release Celebrates Jim Crow Education System as Pioneer of ‘School Choice.’”
Ben Mathis-Lilley wrote:
First of all, it sounds like a seventh-grader wrote this, which is perhaps what happens when you put someone who has never really had a real job in charge of the Department of Education. Second, this official 2017 federal government press release celebrates legal segregation (!!!) on the grounds that the Jim Crow education system gave black students “more options,” as if there was a robust competition between HBCUs and white universities for their patronage. (When black Mississippian James Meredith chose the “option” of enrolling at the University of Mississippi in 1962, a massive white mob formed on the campus; two people were shot to death and hundreds injured in the ensuing battle/riot, during which federal marshals came under heavy gunfire, requiring the ultimate intervention of 20,000 U.S. soldiers and thousands more National Guardsmen.)
But, hey, it is good that Betsy acknowledges that the true origins of school choice were segregation schools and colleges. Even if she didn’t mean to.