The Trump administration sent shockwaves through the historically black college community by suggesting in a statement on Friday night that a funding program for black college campuses may unconstitutionally allocate federal money on the basis of race.
A source close to the administration said that the statement "blindsided" many inside the White House, as well as in the Education Department, who have both spent significant time and energy wooing HBCUs — hoping to improve on a rocky relationship the schools had with the Obama administration.
The Friday statement on the government funding bill pointed to a longstanding program that gives funding for construction projects on the campuses of black colleges as one that allocates benefits "on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender." The administration, the statement said, would "treat the provisions ... in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws."
Two sources said the statement singling out black colleges had bypassed those who had worked on HBCU issues.
"The timing of this was crazy... It totally blindsided the White House domestic policy staff and all of the key players on this issue, and it subsequently blindsided the HBCU community," said a second source with direct knowledge of the situation. "It was a tone-deaf statement," the source said, that black colleges saw as "literally attacking not just HBCUs but Native Americans."
The White House statement also indicated that a housing block grant program for Native Americans included in the omnibus bill might be similarly unconstitutional.
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