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Est. April 5, 2002
March 09, 2017 - Issue 689

Trump, HBCUs, Elected Officials,
Education Policy

Dr. Wesley Boykin contributed to this essay.

"HBCU presidents have to be wary
of Trump’s aim to make them
members of his school choice posse."

The pummeling of public and higher education by President Donald Trump and his cabinet members has been comprehensive and multifaceted in cultivating the Democratic Party’s traditional base: leaders of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), national and state elected officials of color, and superintendents of large urban school districts. The Trump administration has aligned itself with all the key players in the education reform Cartel. This will be the first time that all the major advocates for public sector privatization will be on the same page in their efforts to transform America.

Last week, President Trump met with the leaders of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). That meeting alone was historic and was welcomed by the college presidents as a step in the right direction. President Obama, despite repeated requests, refused to meet with this group during his eight-year reign. However, the gathering was sideswiped by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s press release, and ensuing tweets, connecting HBCUs to the administration’s school choice campaign. These statements created a firestorm throughout African American communities and among public education and HBCU supporters all over the country. Dr. John Wilson, president of Morehouse College, Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, and many others expressed outrage.

They were particularly annoyed by DeVos’s failure to acknowledge that the creation of HBCUs and the overwhelming majority of early African American elementary and secondary institutions was the only way to provide formal education to former slaves and their children in the racially segregated South. HBCUs were not a choice but rather a survival strategy that uplifted millions from back-breaking farm labor to positions with economic security. This recurring pain and anger have refocused attention to the relevance of HBCUs in today’s education landscape.

While it is sad and unfortunate that President Trump’s hand-picked educational leader would make such an unfair and somewhat demeaning comparison of HBCUs to the politically charged school choice program, those who support higher education for African American students can take advantage of the well-publicized occasion to rise above the emotionally-charged divide and conquer tactic that has been used almost to perfection since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President. But HBCU presidents have to be wary of Trump’s aim to make them members of his school choice posse.

During the negotiations for the HBCU presidents’s meeting, Omarosa Manigault, Trump’s director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison and Paris Dennard, former Trump campaign surrogate, Republican consultant, and currently Senior Director of Strategic Communications at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), an organization that advocates for public HBCUs, met with HBCU presidents to lobby them to establish charter schools on their campuses. This initiative had already been encouraged by Dr. Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), who also serves on the board of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a premier, national charter school network.

At the same time, there have been ever-increasing efforts to recruit national and state elected officials to the school choice fold. Secretary DeVos’s American Federation for Children’s Political Action Committee (PAC), and her family’s other political groups, quietly developed a pipeline in the early 2000s to identify and fund the political development of young minorities to run for local and state office in more than twenty-five states; in some cases, they were funded all the way to national office. Three of the most prominent beneficiaries are Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who was funded for election to the Newark, New Jersey City Council, for mayor of Newark, and for U.S. senator; Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) for South Carolina State Representative, South Carolina Congressman, and U.S. senator; and Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA) funded for the Pennsylvania State Assembly, and the U.S. House of Representatives.

More recently, these schemes have become more brazen. On February 28th, the last day of African American History Month, the leading North Carolina school choice alliance, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC), arranged a press conference for a group of eight black state representatives and senators (of the 37 in the legislature) to announce their support for school choice. PEFNC’s political action committee, Partners for Educational Freedom in NC, is now “… one of the central conduits for big "school choice" money in North Carolina politics.” All eight of the legislators have received approximately 25 percent of their campaign contributions from school choice Cartel members.

Darrell Allison, president of PEFNC, confidently stated that his goal is to have one-third of North Carolina’s Black Legislative Caucus join him in pushing for school choice as part of the new civil rights struggle. Richard DeVos, Betsy DeVos’s husband, stated at a the conservative Heritage Foundation’s 2002 annual meeting, "We need to target our ability at state level to deliver rewards and consequences to legislators on school choice issues ... vouchers should not be viewed as only a conservative idea."

While all of the aforementioned initiatives are going on, the education reform Cartel has placed successive private-sector oriented school superintendents in urban school districts primarily populated by low-income students of color. Most of them have been trained in Eli Broad’s (a preeminent Cartel member) Superintendent’s Academy in Los Angeles, which focuses on running a school district like a business. They aggressively spin off public school students and buildings to corporate charter and voucher schools, downsizing their districts’ size and budgets in the process. Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Camden, Newark, and Trenton, New Jersey; New Orleans; Indianapolis; Atlanta; Detroit; Philadelphia and Chester, Pennsylvania; Chicago; Rochester, New York; and numerous others have had two or more private-sector focused superintendents in succession during the past decade, further destabilizing their schools.

President Trump’s expansive education agenda is beginning to run on all cylinders as it systematically undermines public education.

Note: Wesley Boykin, PhD, MPH, is executive director, Center of Excellence and associate professor at Voorhees College, an HBCU, in Denmark, SC.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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