Taxpayer-funded critical race theory training program draws criticism

“Critical Race Theory is inherently bigoted, and it is a lie,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, says.
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Rally against "critical race theory" (CRT).
Rally against "critical race theory" (CRT), Loudoun County, Leesburg, Virginia, June 12, 2021.
(ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Critics are questioning a taxpayer-funded program that trains students in critical race theory.

The backlash comes after The Center Square uncovered federal grant documents from the Department of Education that showed the federal government has awarded millions of dollars to a program that trains future educators in critical race theory.

Experts said the program disproves claims that critical race theory is not being pushed at K-12 schools.

“Critical Race Theory is inherently bigoted and it is a lie,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in response to news about the grant funding. “The federal government should not be funding the training for a Marxist ideology that teaches people to hate America. That’s why I introduced legislation earlier this year to block federal funding for CRT.”

Cruz’s legislation is one of several Republican efforts to stymie the spread of critical race theory, a school of thought which teaches that American history is best read through the lens of racism.

The New York Times' "1619 Project" captured and popularized the idea, reframing the history of the U.S. as not beginning in 1776 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but in 1619, when the the first enslaved Africans arrived in what was then the colony of Virginia.

“This is exactly why Governor Noem signed an executive order this year to block federal civics and history grants in South Dakota,” said Ian Fury, spokesman for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. “We will continue working to ensure that our students learn America's true and honest history.”

Department of Education grant records show that in 2016 under the Obama administration, the federal government awarded its first five-year grant of $1,116,895 to North Carolina Central University (NCCU) for training college students in critical race theory.

That program is named, “The Research Institute for Scholars of Equity," or RISE. As part of the federally-funded program, participating students receive a $5,000 stipend, travel allowance, and money for food and housing. According to promotional materials and grant documents, RISE students are taught to use critical race theory as a framework by which to evaluate teacher quality, among other things.

Many of the participating students will likely go on to be teachers. The program also emphasizes training students with "research careers that will inform policy and practice in education" on a wider scale, helping spread critical race theory ideas into policy-making conversation nationwide.

NCCU has partnered with several colleges around the country in the program, which provided one-year fellowships to about 60 students.

The "principal investigator" for the RISE program, NCCU faculty member Wynetta Lee, was approved for another five-year grant of $1,533,384 under the Biden administration in July of this year. This second grant puts RISE at over $2.6 million in taxpayer funding.

Pennsylvania State University has partnered with Lee for the second grant, called RISE 2.0, though other educational institutions will likely send students or faculty to participate.

Lee did not answer repeated inquiries about RISE and the role of critical race theory in her program.

From the 2016 grant:

“One core feature of the fellowship is the eight-week summer research institute in which fellows will be introduced to critical race theory (as well as mixed-methods research techniques) as a means of studying issues such as teacher quality, education policy, and race and social justice in education,” the 2016 grant reads. “In addition to coursework, fellows will conduct several short research projects and begin conducting research related to the RISE theme as part of research interest groups (RIGs) under the supervision of their faculty mentors. Fellows will continue to conduct research through their RIGs during the academic year.”

The later 2021 grant has the same wording but omits "critical race theory." Program documents and webpages promoting RISE repeatedly use the phrase.

"This is an example of federal funding for CRT at the post secondary level that also has an impact on K-12 schools based on the goals and activities of the fellowship," said Jonathan Butcher, an education expert at the Heritage Foundation. "This directly exposes the claims that CRT is not used in K-12 schools as false."