In a battle between educational content and political rhetoric, it appears content may have won the day at the State Board of Education Thursday.
At issue is a video course on financial literacy offered by PragerU that the board is considering adding to the curriculum of the state’s Learn Everywhere program. Board chairman Drew Cline said the content “has a lot of value” and is suitable for the flexible, self-directed education that is part of the non-traditional Learn Everywhere model.
Critics, like Deb Howes, president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, had not watched the videos and were not familiar enough with the content to discuss it. Instead, they objected to the source of the content — PragerU, a politically-conservative nonprofit founded by media personality Dennis Prager.
Asked by Cline if the 15-video course met the appropriate educational standards, Howes, the head of the second largest teachers union in the state, declined to answer and appeared not to have viewed any of the content.
“I cannot speak to whether it goes into depth enough; I am not a financial literacy teacher,” Howes said.
State Rep. David Luneau (D-Hopkinton) bashed the board’s handling of the application and called PragerU a “racist propaganda mill.”
“I find it outrageous and unacceptable that this board would take a controversial subject and slip it into a meeting on Aug. 10 when hopefully nobody’s watching,” Luneau said.
However, when asked about the specific content, Luneau also appeared to be unfamiliar with it and pointedly refused to say if he watched any of the videos under consideration about the board.
Some critics, however, had taken the time to review the materials. Mark MacLean, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, watched all 15 videos in the “Cash Course” series and said there is plenty of good material in the class.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with the videos I watched,” MacLean said.
But MacLean did express concerns about the depth of the content and whether or not it is sufficient to be an accredited high school class. PragerU’s proposal sought to have students who took the class earn a half credit.
“The content is good; I just don’t think as a standalone it’s enough to provide students with a comprehensive financial literacy unit,” MacLean said.
But elected Democrats and progressive activists who attacked the board’s consideration of the content weren’t interested in the course but rather the source. They denounced PragerU and expressed concerns that curious students might become intrigued and begin exploring other content from the conservative nonprofit.
“Students and parents who view the first video in PragerU’s financial literacy course are one mouse-click away from a ‘Parent Action Guide’ that urges scrutiny of any public official who parents suspect is involved in topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the left-leaning Boston Globe warned.
Both Democrats running for governor in 2024, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, have announced their opposition.
Via social media, Warmington urged the board to reject what she called “radical & unaccredited PragerU into New Hampshire schools,” though she has also not indicated what part of the proposed course is objectionable.
And House Democratic Caucus Leader Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester) claimed PragerU has content “that suggests slavery was ‘no big deal,’” and “peddle anti-LGBTQ+ hate.” Despite repeated requests, Wilhelm declined to provide any examples to bolster his claims.
Ultimately, it appeared the solution may be technology, not politics.
Brandon Ewing, with PragerU, told the board Thursday that the organization planned to create a separate website for the New Hampshire Cash Course class, one that was not linked to the wider PragerU site. It was a detail the board had not been made aware of.
“We’re working through the format details on the technical end,” Ewing said.
Cline said removing the Cash Course class from the PragerU main website would allow families to view it without concerns over the rest of PragerU’s content.
“We heard a lot of testimony that the content is strong, but a lot of concerns about the context. Having it as a standalone entity could change the whole conversation,” Cline said. Cline also asked Ewing to show the board more of the materials that will be used to access student progress in the course.
Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to table the application until next month, when it can see the proposed website and review additional materials.
“This is good financial literacy content, and we need to make sure that all of our young people have that skill going forward in life,” said Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut told WMUR after the board meeting. “I think that it got overly politicized, and I think there was some interest in doing that, and I’m disappointed that this is where we ended up.”