The White House is batting down reports that the Trump administration had planned to scuttle one of Michelle Obama’s signature initiatives.
Hours after CNN reported on an internal Peace Corps email that announced a plan to stop supporting the former first lady’s “Let Girls Learn” program, a White House spokesman said there had been no changes to the initiative.
The cable network’s CNN Films division, which celebrated Obama’s work to improve educational opportunities for girls in developing countries in a documentary last year, reported that Sheila Crowley, acting director of the Peace Corps, sent an email to employees this week shutting down the education campaign.
“Moving forward, we will not continue to use the ‘Let Girls Learn’ brand or maintain a stand-alone program,” Crowley wrote in a message obtained by CNN. The Peace Corps, which had played a key role in promoting the first lady’s initiative, will continue its work to support girls’ education but it is unclear whether Michelle Obama’s branding will remain a central focus.
As part of “Let Girls Learn” in the Obama administration, federal agencies were directed to put additional resources toward helping girls attend school. The Obamas said that the initiative was inspired by the couple’s 2013 Oval Office meeting with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for speaking out in support of girls’ education.
In her first appearance since leaving the White House, Michelle Obama said last week that she was undeterred in her efforts to promote this cause.
“One issue that I am excited about continuing to work on is . . . to help young girls get an education around the world,” she said during her first engagement on the speakers’ circuit. “The plight of women and girls is real. . . . The struggles are real.”
Obama had tried to embed the “Let Girls Learn” programs into the federal government and had cited the national security benefits of investing in adolescent girls’ education. Aspects of the initiative, which was backed by public and private funding, had attracted fresh investments last year, including $25 million for USAID’s Let Girls Learn Challenge Fund and $30 million for the Peace Corps.
Both first lady Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump, who is working as an aide to her father, have shown interest in promoting women’s causes, and so perhaps they will take up the cause of girls education, said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian with the National First Ladies’ Library.
“Given that Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump have both, in a general way, spoken about the need for gender equity, especially among young women, it would seem that both or either of them would have a strong interest in ascertaining why this Peace Corps program is being cut, reviewing the process for its possible restoration or, at the very least, creating a venue for private fundraising and funding so that it continues,” Anthony said before the White House asserted that it would continue backing “Let Girls Learn.”
However, another program of the former first lady’s is definitely headed for the chopping block. After only six days on the job, President Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, moved to stall the stricter nutritional standards for school breakfasts and lunches that Michelle Obama had pushed.