New Hampshire families can now choose a new financial literacy course from PragerU through the state’s Learn Everywhere program, and New Hampshire Democrats have a new hobby horse to ride into campaign season.
That was the result after three hours of a contentious State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, where Democrats, progressives, and union activists packed the room to denounce PragerU and its “right-wing” politics.
“This approval disregards the potential harm PragerU’s extreme content will inflict on our schools and the education of our children,” said Democratic Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, who is seeking her party’s nomination for governor next year.
At issue is a video course on personal finances and financial literacy called “Cash Course,” and produced by PragerU, a conservative content business. The state Board of Education has been considering making the course, which contains no political or controversial content, part of the content eligible to complete course requirements for students in the Learn Everywhere program.
Learn Everywhere, an innovative education program unique to New Hampshire, allows students to earn credit for learning outside the classroom. The program, which has been under development since 2018, was first approved in August 2020 in a 4-3 vote.
The State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday, with Chair Drew Cline’s abstention, to approve the PragerU content as a half-credit course. The class is offered for free for any student who chooses to take it.
The approval comes despite heavy, organized opposition from progressives and teachers unions against PragerU.
Their opposition is not based on the content itself but rather on the provider. Many of the people who spoke in opposition Thursday did not appear to have seen the Cash Course content under consideration.
“I am appalled by today’s Board of Education decision to allow PragerU to operate in New Hampshire. I will fight for every child in our state to receive a quality education, and I will never allow an extreme right-wing organization to influence their learning,” Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said.
Craig is also running for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Warmington has been using the PragerU issue to campaign and fundraise for weeks, attacking “their extremist views.” Warmington declined to respond when asked to identify what “extremist views” were in the personal finance content under consideration by the Board of Education.
Warmington suffered a political faceplant early this week with an unfounded complaint that PragerU was falsely presenting itself as an actual university and potentially violating New Hampshire state law. Attorney General John F0rmella dismissed Warmington’s complaint, noting the website explicitly announces PragerU is not a university and that the law Warmington cited only applies to entities incorporated in New Hampshire. It was embarrassing for a career attorney who spent two decades at the Sheehan & Gordon law firm.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation about Learn Everywhere and this course,” Cline said during Thursday’s board meeting.
PragerU is not partnering with the state, getting a state contract, or being paid any taxpayer money, Cline said. Further, the PragerU class is not required for any New Hampshire student. Additionally, PragerU plans to offer its class on a website independent of the wider PragerU offerings.
The association with the conservative media personality Dennis Prager is the major red flag for the Cash Course opponents. Dozens of people who were against PragerU’s application spoke Thursday, accusing the conservative non-profit of pushing an extremist agenda and even likening it to the Ku Klux Klan.
Supporters say that while PragerU is unapologetically conservative in its philosophy, it is far from being an extremist organization. And they note that many of the union members and progressives who say its politics are “too extreme” have supported far-left “critical race theory” content from racists like Ibram X. Kendi in New Hampshire’s K-12 classrooms.
Board Member Richard Sala said the board had approved several Learn Everywhere options and charter schools with decidedly left-wing ideologies. He said the board is not trying to push an agenda other than giving all parents the most choices for their children.
“I trust parents to make good calls for their kids more than I trust the government to,” Sala said.
Sala noted that while PragerU is a conservative, so are at least half the families in New Hampshire.
“A lot of PragerU material is mainstream political thought in this country,” Sala said. “You can’t censor half the ideas in this country.”
It wasn’t all about fears children were being indoctrinated into the Republican Party. Deb Howes, head of the New Hampshire American Federal of Teachers, the state’s second biggest teachers union, claimed that allowing students to take the Cash Course class for a half credit would lower the state’s education standards.
“Watching a video and doing a worksheet doesn’t help you remember it when it counts,” Howe said.
Cline said PragerU’s Cash Course class covers a little more material than another financial literacy program already approved for Learn Everywhere. That program did not receive any public opposition when it was approved.
Board Member Ryan Terrell said the opposition to PragerU is ruled by a bias against all conservatives, which assumes any Republican is a homophobic racist.
“You say you want open dialogue and then attack a whole swath of people’s ideals,” Tyrell said.
The opponents revealed they are ultimately against New Hampshire families having real choices when it comes to educating their children, Tyrell said.
“The overall message was anti-choice. It’s simply that black and white,” Terrell said.