Lawmakers call for investigation, criticize federally-funded CRT program

“No taxpayer funds should be used to indoctrinate our children by pushing Critical Race Theory,” U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., said.
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Anti-CRT protests in Loudoun County, Va., June 2021
Anti-CRT protests in Loudoun County, Va., June 2021
(ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/Getty)

Republican lawmakers blasted a federally funded education program that trains researchers and teachers in critical race theory after The Center Square’s investigation broke news of the program. Now, one Florida U.S. Congressman is calling for an investigation into whether the program violates state law.

Newly uncovered Department of Education grant documents show that the department awarded $1,020,800 in a 2017 grant and $1,498,620 in a 2021 grant to a Florida-based program called Partners United for Research Pathways Oriented to Social Justice in Education (PURPOSE).

The taxpayer-funded program – led by Florida State University, which has partnered with Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University – offers participants one-year fellowships. Participants receive training in a range of issues, including critical race theory, during the fellowships.

“In the spring and summer semesters, fellows will participate in proseminars that focus on social justice topics including culturally relevant pedagogy and research design, tools for analyzing oppression, critical race theory, multicultural leadership, and tools for social change and action, which are led both by PURPOSE mentors and guest speakers from both institutions,” the program’s website reads.

Critical race theory has been thrust into controversy. It teaches, among other things, the U.S. is a fundamentally racist country, from its founding until present day, and racism is likely the defining feature of American society, even before other ideas such as liberty or independence.

One Florida Republican congressman has called for an investigation into the program.

“No taxpayer funds should be used to indoctrinate our children by pushing Critical Race Theory,” U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., said. “This biased framework espouses radical, divisive views that have been soundly rejected by Florida lawmakers, educators, and parents. There is simply no room for this type of woke platform in our schools. Furthermore, I believe its use in a Florida public education setting to be in violation of state law. I call upon the Department of Education to investigate this misuse of funds.”

Bilirakis’ office referred to the Florida’s state Board of Education’s decision in June to ban critical race theory from public school classrooms.

PURPOSE fellows focus on receiving training, not teaching students, though they do work with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools, which host “six-week summer camps throughout the nation that focus on cultivating scholars’ reading practice and social action through culturally-relevant reading curricula.”

Any investigation likely would center around whether any of PURPOSE’s federally funded involvement with younger students crosses Florida’s newly created rules banning critical race theory. PURPOSE’s 2021 grant continues into 2026.

Florida State University said it is looking into the matter.

“We are not aware of any violations of state law,” said Amy Farnum-Patronis, a spokesperson for FSU. “The university will review the federally funded program in question to ensure it is complying with all state laws and regulations.”

Florida A&M University declined to comment.

Alysia Roehrig, a professor of educational psychology at FSU who is listed as the “principal investigator” for the 2017 grant, acknowledged critical race theory is taught as part of the federally funded program but defended it.

Roehrig said the program focuses on training education researchers, not teachers, though some do go on to be teachers.

“We talk about CRT as one of many frameworks that can be used in conducting research with minoritized populations to address social justice issues in education,” Roehrig said. “It is important to spend federal research money on understanding social justice issues because those from racially minoritized populations (who also pay taxes) are underrepresented in the education sciences.

“CRT has been taught in universities for a while (typically at the [graduate] not [undergraduate] level), but I think it has not been taught or used in K-12 schools. Teaching young children directly about the theory does not seem developmentally appropriate to me, but the theory can inform their teachers about structural racism and hopefully reduce deficit thinking about their students.”

The principal investigator faculty member at FSU for the 2021 grant, Jeannine Turner, did not respond to a request for comment.

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis’ office condemned the PURPOSE program. Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, said these kinds of projects teach young people “to hate their peers.”

“These are two examples of how higher education has been coopted into devaluing the very reasons why students are on campus – projects that are teaching young people to hate their peers, while simultaneously distracting students from obtaining a high quality education that prepares them for opportunity and success in professional life,” Pushaw said.

“As you may know, Governor DeSantis announced last year that CRT and CRT-inspired ideology would be prohibited in Florida’s K-12 public schools. The State Board of Education issued rules to ensure K-12 students are protected from this toxic ideology of race essentialism. So, Florida’s existing rule prohibiting CRT applies to K-12 education, but not to universities at this time.”

Pushaw said the governor’s office is planning to get new laws passed that explicitly could ban this kind of program.

“However, the legislature is now considering reforms proposed by the governor to protect university students and employees from discrimination, including racial discrimination in CRT-inspired content, potentially like the examples you have provided,” Pushaw said.

“As for the timeline, any legislation passed this session and signed by the governor before the fiscal year ends on June 30 would be state law, effective July 1, 2022. So if all goes according to plan, we anticipate having these protections for university students in place before the beginning of the Fall 2022 semester, so they cannot be forced to take classes with discriminatory/racist content.”

Multiple pieces of proposed legislation have addressed critical race theory funding at the federal level but have not become law. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced a bill to ban federal funding. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House.

“I’m absolutely opposed to allowing any taxpayer funding for teaching Critical Race Theory in schools in any state, at any level of education,” U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla, said in response to the newly uncovered program. “I’ve cosponsored a bill which would prohibit federal funding from going to CRT. When the Republicans take back the majority in November, we will put an end to schools teaching these racist theories that are exclusively based on the color of skin to our next generation.”

The Center Square reached out to several Florida Democrats but received no response.

“Critical Race Theory has no place in America, especially not in the free state of Florida,” U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said. “All federal funding for any CRT-related programs or initiatives should be defunded and disbanded immediately.”