Ray Carter | May 25, 2023
Bill could mandate pursuit of Biden federal school grants
A provision snuck into legislation funding Oklahoma public schools could force the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to apply for federal grants that were a priority of the prior Democratic state superintendent of public instruction.
The mandate comes at a time when the Biden administration is openly trying to use federal funding to force schools to promote transgenderism and other causes.
Senate Bill 36X sets the budget for Oklahoma’s public-school system.
One provision of the bill mandates, “The State Department of Education shall not decline, refuse participation in, or choose not to apply for any federal grant funding that had been received by the Department prior to FY 2023 without joint approval from the President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma State Senate and the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.”
That effectively requires the department to apply for all grants previously sought when the agency was led by Joy Hofmeister, a Democrat who ran an unsuccessful race for governor last year, unless legislative leaders separately opt against it.
The bill does not lay out a specific process for legislative review and the mandate would remain in place if the two chambers disagree on the merits of a specific grant.
New State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters has made review of federal grants a priority and discussed the issue during a meeting with House lawmakers in early May.
“One of the things that we take very seriously, and I’ve been clear for a few years now, is that I’m going to analyze every single dollar and ensure that every dollar that we accept is used for the best purpose for our parents, teachers, and kids, that it is transparent so the taxpayers can see how the money’s being spent, and that’s there’s no strings attached to those funds that make them ineffective and tie the hands of our districts in ways that are inappropriate,” Walters said.
Concerns over the strings attached to federal education grants have been raised for years. Critics have argued the grants often divert teachers from important work or force schools to inject politics into the classroom.
In 2013, Ed Allen, who then served as president of the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Federation for Teachers, suggested to The Oklahoman’s editorial board that the Oklahoma City district needed to embrace one major change: “Turn down some federal money.”
Allen said the federal strings attached to grants often required implementing new programs that took teachers away from core classroom duties.
Other critics have noted federal grants often push schools to promote political issues to students.
In September 2020, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to “combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.” Among other things, that order stated that “it shall be the policy of the United States not to promote race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating in the Federal workforce or in the Uniformed Services, and not to allow grant funds to be used for these purposes.”
That directive was reversed by the Biden administration.
In April 2021, the Biden administration issued a proposed rule declaring that “the ongoing national reckoning with systemic racism” had “highlighted the urgency of improving racial equity throughout our society, including in our education system.”
In its proposed guidelines for American History and Civics Education programs, the proposed rule called for a focus on “equity” in the grant process, touted the “1619 Project” and praised the incorporation of Ibram X. Kendi’s “antiracism” theories “into teaching and learning.”
Contrary to the image conveyed by the term “antiracism,” that worldview endorses active racial discrimination.
Kendi has expressly written that “if racial discrimination is defined as treating, considering, or making a distinction in favor or against an individual based on that person’s race, then racial discrimination is not inherently racist.”
“The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination,” Kendi wrote. “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
The “1619 Project” reframes American history as primarily driven by slavery and has drawn strong criticism from a range of historians.
While “equality” means providing equal opportunity, “equity” involves producing the same outcomes for all individuals, regardless of effort.
The Biden administration backed away from that proposal after public outcry about its suggested changes to American History and Civics Education programs.
But in April, the Biden administration issued a proposed rule declaring that “recipients of Federal financial assistance” cannot “limit or deny a student’s eligibility to participate on a male or female athletic team consistent with their gender identity.”
Oklahoma law bars males from participating in female sporting events.
Some federal education grants have received vocal support from left-wing organizations.
For example, Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, touts two categories of federal sex-education grants on its website, declaring, “We need to fight to ensure that these sex education programs continue to receive proper federal funding …”
Democrats have hailed the provision in SB 36X that mandates pursuit of federal grants controlled by the Biden administration and their implementation in Oklahoma schools.
“Sometimes your legislative Daddy has to remind you who’s wearing the pants,” tweeted state Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.