Elisabeth Dee “Betsy” DeVos is neither ignorant, nor a proponent of racial segregation

Prior to President Trump’s speech to Congress Tuesday evening, Betsy DeVos met with leaders of historically black higher education institutions (HBCUs).  As is typical for public relations, she released a statement, worth a full read here:

A key priority for this administration is to help develop opportunities for communities that are often the most underserved. Rather than focus solely on funding, we must be willing to make the tangible, structural reforms that will allow students to reach their full potential.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have done this since their founding. They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.

HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. 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.

Their counsel and guidance will be crucial in addressing the current inequities we face in education. I look forward to working with the White House to elevate the role of HBCUs in this administration and to solve the problems we face in education today.

This is a statement supportive of educational choice.  Of course, since DeVos is a republican and part of the Trump administration, this statement is considered ignorant and praises segregation.  Similarly to those democrats holding grudges to the point of disparaging a Navy Seal’s wife, this is another grudge sure to backfire like a petulant child on the grocery aisle floor wailing over not getting the candy bar.

Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference responded to DeVos’ statement, harshly:

HBCUs were created in response to a racist system of segregation that saw the education of black people as a threat to white supremacy – a belief central to slavery — and that refused to allow black people to participate in the education system available only to white people.  HBCUs continue to play an important role in our education system.
There is no shortage of academic literature on this subject, including the seminal work, Education of Blacks in the South: 1860-1935, by noted historian James Anderson.  I would advise Secretary DeVos to check the facts, study the history, and refrain from suggesting that Jim Crow was about choice for anybody besides segregationist politicians.

This conference consists of approximately 200 organizations, principally liberal, such as the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and Prison Policy Initiative.  From the diversity of organizations, one would think Henderson’s statement would be vetted to ensure accuracy.  Alas, no. 

The reason for this display of irrational disgust?  The National Education Association’s hold on the Democratic Party, since Jimmy Carter’s switch on vouchers to keep in good with the union  The money and political stronghold between the NEA and Democrats override any desire to listen to voters.  The children do not matter; only when used as pawns to extort more money from state and federal agencies.

As clearly articulated in The Federalist, Joy Pullman explains:

“…..since the inception of higher education people have always traveled for it. If there is more than one HBCU — in fact there are 107, several established before the Civil War, in addition to non-HBCU colleges like my alma mater, Hillsdale, that never practiced racial discrimination — then you instantly have plural options. Not none or one but many. We’ve moved from no choice to many choices, thanks to entirely voluntary efforts and despite government-mandated segregation. Which is precisely DeVos’s point.”

School vouchers have been in majority support for decades.  For example, one of the first modern school choice programs in America, Milwaukee’s vouchers, was spearheaded by longtime civil rights activist Howard Fuller.  In 2014, Fuller expressed his thoughts to Pullman:

“I use the term parent choice. It’s not an issue of schools choosing, it’s an issue of parents choosing. I don’t think you ought to have an America where those of us with money have the opportunity to choose the best environment for their children. If you have money in America, you have choice. Because if schools don’t work for your children, you’re going to move, you’re going to get those kids into another private school, you’re going to get tutoring, or all three. Low-income and working-class parents don’t have the opportunity to do it. For me it’s a social justice issue, not about free markets — trying to ensure that those families that have the least among us have some opportunity to choose the best environment for their children.”

In addition, research has shown this decades-long trend in support of alternative education:  Seventy-four percent of black Americans supported charter schools in a national 2016 poll. Choosing among public, private, charter, or homeschooling, only 25% chose public schools as a first choice.  Sixty-one percent support school vouchers, and 63 percent supported tax-credit scholarships. Forty-nine percent think public education is on the wrong track.”

As aptly stated by Pullman:

“What really offends critics is not that DeVos said historically black institutions offer options to children, but that Trump administration policies threaten Democrats’ political monopoly on the black vote.”


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Tara Baney

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