State superintendent document says top priority for spending federal COVID money will be Critical Race Theory-type programs, not student learning

By LIV FINNE  | 
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May 26, 2021

Last week I reported that the State Superintendent had proposed a list of favored bureaucratic projects, like “equity and anti-racist training,” “inclusionary practices,” “trauma-informed practices,” and “social and emotional learning” – all aspects of controversial Critical Race Training sessions – to be funded by federal COVID funds (ESSER I, II and III) meant for special needs children.  Parents of special needs children objected and said the money should be used for recovery and compensatory services to help students, as the federal government intended.

Not surprisingly the State Superintendent’s office vigorously objected to this disclosure, saying the funding was going to districts for special needs program.  I have since learned this is a misleading dodge.

The State Superintendent document, “OSPI’s Priorities for ESSER Funds,” last modified June 25, 2020, lays out four priorities that school districts must follow.  [Here’s the link, and because government websites have a habit of changing suddenly without warning, I’ve posted a screenshot below.]  As you can see, Priority One is spending on Critical Race Theory-type sessions.

See for yourself this screenshot from the website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction:

 

Phrases like “engaging in anti-racist capacity building” and “dismantling systemically racist structures” are code words for Critical Race Theory sessions.  The document also orders, “We expect districts will make these priorities in their work.”

For school administrators, ending the systemic racism in the schools they operate should be a top priority, but they should not need extra federal funds to do it.

Washington’s schools were 47th in the nation in reopening to in-person instruction.  Many districts are still not fully re-opened, and are only providing the bare minimum of 10 hours of in-person instruction a week.  Meanwhile, private schools and most charter public schools have been fully open for the whole school year.

Of course wealthy families in public education can adapt more easily to closed schools and ad-hoc online learning.  The children who are hit hardest by poor academics are special needs, low-income, black, Hispanic, and Native American students and their families.  The damage to their learning is enormous, and it is not yet fully known and quantified. One national research firm, McKinsey, finds the damage caused by closed schools is so large it means “a hurt that could last a lifetime.”

After this devastating experience, the top priority use of federal COVID relief funds should be fully reopening the schools to in-person instruction, a focus on academics, and helping students recover from learning loss.  It is especially important for disadvantaged children to catch up academically to their peers in private and charter public schools. 

OSPI officials’ efforts to end systematic racism in the public schools they oversee should not pull federal resources away from student learning.  The top priority of any school – especially a tax-funded, public one that is getting extra federal dollars – should be building student skills in reading, writing, math, science, literature, geography and civics, not promoting the divisive and harmful ideology of Critical Race Theory.