NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 23: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center February 23, 2017 in National Harbor, Maryland. Hosted by the American Conservative Union, CPAC is an annual gathering of right wing politicians, commentators and their supporters. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Photo: Alex Wong
Photo: Alex Wong

Betsy DeVos calls historically black colleges pioneers of school choice, sparks outrage

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sparked a social media firestorm Monday after she called historically black colleges "pioneers" in school choice, a move that critics said ignored the racial conflict that necessitated the schools.

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"Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) … started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education," DeVos said in a statement. "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."

DeVos has long supported charters schools and school choice programs, which give students and parents an alternative to traditional public school education.

Her comments come as representatives from the nation's HBCUs meet this week with DeVos and lawmakers in Washington.

The statement appeared to run counter to information posted on the Department of Education's website which states that HBCUs stemmed from racial segregation in education.

"Prior to the time of their establishment, and for many years afterwards, blacks were generally denied admission to traditionally white institutions," according to the Department of Education. "As a result, HBCUs became the principle means for providing postsecondary education to black Americans."

Devos' comments were met with incredulity on social media.

President Donald Trump is expected on Tuesday to sign an executive order related to HBCUs. A senior White House official told The Associated Press that the order is aimed at prioritizing the White House Initiative and Historically Black Colleges and Universities by moving it from the Department of Education into the White House. 

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