President Trump suggested he may consider a federal financial assistance program for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) unconstitutional in comments concluding a signing statement accompanying his Friday approval of the $1.2 trillion spending package that funds Washington through September.
As first reported by Politico, the statement says the Trump administration "shall treat provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender," including the HBCU Capital Financing Program Account, "in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment." The program in question provides low-cost financing for HBCUs to build or repair campus facilities.
A response from Cheryl Smith of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) said the organization is "puzzled by this provision and seeking clarification from the White House as to its meaning." It may be that the Office of Management and Budget is simply "being overly cautious," Smith said. The White House and the Department of Education, which oversees the financing program, did not respond to Politico's requests for comment.
In February, Trump signed an executive order pledging his support to HBCUs, calling the schools "an absolute priority for this White House." The occasion sparked controversy when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called HBCUs the "real pioneers when it comes to school choice."