Legislation filed in the North Carolina General Assembly last week would authorize Beaufort County Public Schools to ignore the state’s standard course of study and instead teach a controversial social studies curriculum developed by a conservative Michigan college with close ties to former President Donald Trump.
The bill was filed by Rep. Keith Kidwell, who represents Beaufort, Dare, Pamlico and Hyde counties.
Scroll to page 2 of the pdf below to see the relevant portion of Kidwell’s bill.
The curriculum Kidwell is proposing be used in Beaufort County’s public schools was created by Michigan-based Hillsdale College after white fragility over Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project prompted former president Donald Trump to issue an executive order setting up what he called a “patriotic education” commission.
Trump said at the time that the commission was intended to counter “hateful lies” being taught to children in American schools which he said constituted “a form of child abuse.”
The commission’s report, published on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January 2021, was widely criticized by actual historians as a whitewashed take on American history for its downplaying of Founding Fathers’ support for slavery and quoting Dr. Martin Luther King out of context in order to create a falsely rosy view of race in the United States, among other reasons.
Hillsdale College released the “1776 curriculum” in July 2021. In its “Note to Teachers,” the curriculum reminds anyone who will be using the curriculum to teach children that “America is an exceptionally good country” and ends with the exhortation to “Learn it, wonder at it, love it, and teach so your students will, too.”
Kidwell’s bill comes just days after Representative Tricia Cotham’s party switch handed North Carolina Republicans a veto-proof supermajority in the legislature. That means there’s a good chance this Trump-inspired, whitewashed version of American history will end up on desks in Beaufort County, and there’s no reason to think other counties won’t follow suit.
According to DPI’s Statistical Profile, more than half of Beaufort County’s 5,821 public school students are students of color. Those students deserve to have their stories and their ancestors’ stories told. Those students and all students deserve to learn real American history, warts and all, not a watered-down, Donald Trump-conceived version designed to make white people feel comfortable.
You can review the entire Hillsdale curriculum below:
The contract was brought to the State Board of Education for approval in January 2022. At the meeting, board member Amy White indicated she’d received an email complaining that the training amounted to critical race theory. (You can listen to the board’s discussion here)
White did not share the source of the complaint, but the ultra right wing group Education First Alliance made some noise about this issue around that same time.
The next day the board voted 7-4 to approve the contract with board members White, Olivia Oxendine, Treasurer Dale Folwell and Lt. Governor Mark Robinson opposing. Superintendent Truitt does not have a vote on the board.
The following week, Truitt indicated on her official Twitter account that she would not carry out the board’s wishes on this matter.
In a January 25, 2022 letter to the institute’s director, Truitt complained about guidance on how teachers should discuss racial identity, saying “DPI leadership does not agree with some of the strategies the ELN [Early Learning Network] includes in its efforts to teach teachers about equity and cultural responsiveness.”
Truitt then chose to defy the state board’s authority and unilaterally cancel the contract.
When asked by the Raleigh News and Observer about this matter, State Board Chair Eric Davis said, “After we approved it, she switched gears. It did not sit well with us.” Davis indicated that the state board had passed new rules clarifying that the superintendent must act on the direction of the board.
Sec. 4. State Board of Education. … (2) Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall be the secretary and chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education.
Sec. 5. Powers and duties of Board. The State Board of Education shall supervise and administer the free public school system and the educational funds provided for its support, except the funds mentioned in Section 7 of this Article, and shall make all needed rules and regulations in relation thereto, subject to laws enacted by the General Assembly.
A Charlotte-area state legislator’s recent decision to switch parties just months after being elected as a Democrat all but assures a massive expansion of North Carolina taxpayer dollars flowing into school vouchers.
In addition to increasing funding for vouchers by hundreds of millions of dollars per year, the recently filed bill eliminates income eligibility requirements so that any student in the state–regardless of financial need–may use public money to attend private schools.
Governor Roy Cooper has vetoed previous attempts to expand school vouchers. However, Mecklenburg County Representative Tricia Cotham’s recent defection to the Republican Party gave the GOP a supermajority in the state legislature and makes it much more likely the bill will become law.
A history rooted in racism
The roots of school vouchers in our country can be traced back to the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court court case in which justices ruled that racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Constitution.
Following this ruling, white leaders in many communities tried all kinds of devious ways to subvert it. In Prince Edward County, Virginia, those efforts included eliminating taxes in order to defund schools and closing them rather than simply allowing racial integration.
After pressure by the courts to comply with Brown increased, the Virginia state legislature created a “tuition grant program” which provided funding for students to attend private schools or public schools in other areas. In Prince Edward County, black students were denied access to those tuition grants.
Most voucher funds in NC used by white students
White flight is not as socially acceptable as it once was, and modern-day proponents of school vouchers often sell them as an equalizer that allows students of color to opt out of struggling traditional public schools. However, in North Carolina, the majority of voucher funds go to white students–despite the fact that students of color form a majority of the k-12 student racial demographics.
Vouchers fund religious schools that discriminate
Another problem with expansion of vouchers in North Carolina is that this practice directs public dollars to private schools which focus on religious teaching and are legally able to discriminate against children.
Fayetteville Christian School is pocketing a cool $1,336,793 in taxpayer funding this school year. Here’s their policy on religious discrimination and what they’ll do if they find out that Heather has two mommies:
ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS The student and at least one parent with whom the student resides must be in full agreement with the FCS Statement of Faith and have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. In addition, the parent and student must regularly fellowship in a local faith based, Bible believing church. Accordingly, FCS will not admit families that belong to or express faith in non-Christian religions such as, but not limited to: Mormons (LDS Church), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims (Islam), non-Messianic Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. Furthermore, students and families are expected to manifest by example Christian virtue in their lives both in and out of school by living life according to Biblical truth. Accordingly, FCS will not admit families that engage in illicit drug use, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality (LGBT) or other behaviors that Scripture defines as deviate and perverted. Once admitted, if the student or parent/guardian with whom the student resides becomes involved in any of the above activities it will be grounds for dismissal of the student/family from the school.
The real problems traditional public schools face
A common refrain for school privatizers is to say we just need to provide more choice and let the free market figure it out. And we have to acknowledge that many of our traditional public schools are struggling. But rather than opportunistically siphoning away their funding, let’s take an honest look at why those schools may be struggling.
The party that Representative Cotham just joined and handed a veto-proof majority to has maintained a gerrymandered stranglehold on power in North Carolina since 2010. During that time our state legislature has passed law after law that has made it harder to attract and retain excellent teachers:
‣ Cut master’s pay supplement and longevity pay ‣ Revoked retiree health benefits ‣ Eliminated due process rights ‣ Gutted Teaching Fellows program ‣ Removed state funding for professional development
Besides running off good teachers, lawmakers have enacted other policy changes that harm student learning:
‣ Uncapped class sizes grades 4-12 ‣ Cut 7,000 teaching assistants ‣ Slashed funding for school technology and classroom supplies ‣ Increased volume of standardized testing
Since they took power, Republicans have repeatedly cut taxes on both corporations and wealthy individuals, depriving public schools of billions of dollars in sorely needed revenue. In just a few years North Carolina’s corporate income tax will be eliminated entirely.
Republican lawmakers have also regularly thumbed their noses at court decisions demanding increased investment in public education, with Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger saying, “If judges want to get into the field of appropriating, they need to run for the legislature.”
Reversing the above changes that have devastated public education in North Carolina would be a good start toward improving the education students can get in traditional public schools.
Of course, doing so would require state legislators who actually *want* strong public schools.
If you object to your public tax dollars funding religious education and discriminatory admissions practices, please contact your state legislator and urge them to oppose expansion of school vouchers.
If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts with Representative Cotham over her betrayal of campaign donors and volunteers as well as the Mecklenburg County voters who elected her to a Democratic seat by a nearly 20% margin over her Republican opponent, her email address is:
The former Charlotte Mecklenburg District 6 Board of Education member who lost his reelection bid last November is due in Mecklenburg County Superior Court next month to face a misdemeanor larceny charge.
The criminal charge stems from two incidents involving campaign signs linking former BOE member Sean Strain with the ultra-conservative fringe group Moms 4 Liberty.
According to media reports published last November, Strain allegedly ripped up one sign campaign volunteer Debbie Baynard had left at South County Library. In the other incident, Baynard alleges Strain sneaked up behind her, grabbed the sign away from her and took off.
The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s website indicates that the room Strain is scheduled to appear in is used for “Citizen’s Court” cases in which one individual files misdemeanor charges against another. The website explains that, in such cases, the victim and the defendant “attempt to achieve a resolution with the help of mediators.” If no such resolution is reached, a judge will issue a verdict. If that verdict is guilty, the defendant may then appeal the decision for a jury trial.
You may view the publicly available court document below. I’ve redacted Strain’s address.