‘Woke initiatives’: Why GOP leaders are attacking ESSER spending in schools

House Republicans launch investigation into spending on subjects they say "have nothing to do with COVID-19 mitigation or learning loss."

Schools are coming under fire for ESSER spending on a “left-wing agenda” of anti-bias training, environmental literacy, LGBTQ+ cultural competency, and other DEI initiatives. The group of GOP lawmakers leveling the accusations insists that these subjects “have nothing to do with COVID-19 mitigation or learning loss.”

These members of Congress are also naming names—of districts and states—and vowing to investigate their use of COVID relief on “woke initiatives.” “Rather than use ESSER funds to help students recover from learning losses, some states and school districts that kept schools closed appear to have spent ESSER funds to push favored social agenda,” GOP House members wrote in a letter sent this week to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “These activities … are a waste and misuse of taxpayer-funded COVID-19 relief programs.”

Reps. James Comer, Virginia Foxx and Brad Wenstrup—the chairs of the House committees on oversight, accountability and the pandemic—also demanded reams of documents from the Department of Education, including ESSER spending guidance, studies of the impacts of ESSER-funded programs, and any communications related to diversity, equity, and inclusion and critical race theory. They expressed particular interest in the ESSER spending plans approved in four Democrat-led states: California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York.

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Among their allegations, House Republicans singled out just one district—Newburyport Public Schools in Massachusetts—but their claims against educators there are not very clear. They say the small district north of Boston spent about $57,000 to “hire a consultant who coached a high school principal to use a racial slur in front of other faculty members.”

They also pointed out that the California Department of Education plans to spend $1.5 billion of its ESSER funds on professional development for school staff in “specified high-need topics,” including restorative justice and implicit bias training.

They further called out California for spending an unspecified amount of money on resources in environmental literacy, ethnic studies and LGBTQ+ cultural competency. Illinois’ plan, meanwhile, emphasizes equity and diversity and includes “equity-based allocations” of funds to school districts. Finally, New York provided staff development on “culturally responsive sustaining instruction” and “privilege,” the committees asserted.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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