When President Donald Trump quietly signed the spending bill that keeps the government open through September, he also issued a lengthy “signing statement” — a list of the requirements in the bill that he might follow or might not.
In the last paragraph of that document, the president suggested federal spending based on “race, ethnicity, and gender” could violate the Constitution. The statement specifically mentioned the potential for withholding some funding for historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs.
The message quickly and rightly caught the attention of the African-American community. The Congressional Black Caucus called it “stunningly careless” and wrong on the facts: HBCUs don’t discriminate against white applicants.
Two days later, the White House walked the signing statement back. “It does not affect my unwavering support for HBCUs and their critical educational missions,” Trump said Sunday.
There are more than 100 historically black colleges and universities in the United States. Some are private schools; others have public charters.
There are two such schools in Missouri: Lincoln University in Jefferson City and Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis.
HBCUs started before the Civil War, when educating African-Americans was illegal in some states. They remain a critically important option for some 300,000 students, mostly minorities.
Yet because tuition is typically lower than at comparable public institutions, the colleges and universities often struggle for funds.
The White House’s approach to HBCUs deserves careful scrutiny in the weeks to come. Any serious reduction in support for HBCUs would undermine a vital higher-education opportunity for students, particularly those who prefer the curriculum and social environment offered by those institutions.
We’re glad the president has expressed renewed support for the schools. The nation should hold Trump to his promise.