On Thursday, September 14, the NH State Board of Education will revisit an application from far-right media company PragerU to offer a financial literacy course for public school students in New Hampshire through the state’s Learn Everywhere program. The application was brought forward by Education Commissioner Frank Edeblut in August, who defended the company and its financial literacy program against strong public opposition and State Board concerns despite the company’s mission to promote far-right propaganda.
The State Board tabled the application last month, citing concerns about the PragerU platform and whether the 5-minute videos and single multiple choice test were enough to justify a half-credit course in financial literacy leading to high school graduation.
Hundreds of people have opposed the application, with many asserting that the NH SBOE should not approve curriculum with a company whose purpose is to disseminate right-wing propaganda.
In addition, there are growing concerns about whether the State Board of Education can approve courses for credits that are not outlined in the state’s graduation requirements. As of September 2023, the State Board has not formally adopted personal finance literacy as a graduation requirement, nor have they adopted academic standards that outline what the program of study should include.
A gateway to controversial content
Much of the public opposition to the proposal has been focused on PragerU itself as a media company that intentionally and openly creates and disseminates far-right content. Those concerns have been validated by Dennis Prager, conservative talk show host and company founder, saying at a Moms for Liberty conference in July that they “indoctrinate kids.”
“All I heard was, ‘You indoctrinate kids,’ which is true. We bring doctrines to children. That’s a very fair statement. I said, ‘But what is the bad of our indoctrination?,’” Prager said during the interview.
PragerU has recently launched a national petition to offer conservative curriculum, which includes history, civics, and financial literacy. Florida, which has made headlines for its recently adopted, pro-slavery academic standards, has approved PragerU’s history curriculum for use in the state’s public schools. In addition, PragerU operates PragerFORCE, a student ambassador program that recruits high school and college student promoters, to increase their reach among young people and persuade more young people into conservative movements.
Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and State Board Chair Drew Cline have pushed back against the criticism, saying that the state’s approval of their financial literacy course, “Cash Course,” is not an endorsement of their other content or the company itself.
But that doesn’t address one of the biggest concerns with the company’s motive for offering the free course: to serve as a gateway to their more controversial content. Brandon Tatum, a representative for PragerU, informed the Board that the company is developing on a dedicated page for the financial literacy program but would not guarantee any branding or promotional material will be removed from the content. Additionally, he also didn’t commit to ensuring there would be no links back to the main PragerU website.
And then there’s the algorithm. By visiting the PragerU website, even if it were an independent website operated by PragerU, would gradually change social media recommendations and algorithms guiding young people to more political and extreme content.
Many are asking whether the state should approve a course that is so mired in ideology when there are many other alternatives for financial literacy instruction, including Fit Money, a Learn Everywhere program that the NH State Board of Education has already approved.
Does Cash Course Measure Up?
PragerU’s “Cash Course” consists of 15, 5-minute videos on topics that include “Understanding Taxes,” “What are Savings?,” and “Reading Your Paystub.” Students would receive graduation credit equivalent of a half-year course by completing a brief, multiple-choice test.
Both the NH Department of Education staff who reviewed the application and State Board of Education members have raised concerns that the content isn’t rigorous enough to replace a full financial literacy class.
However, there are questions about whether the NH State Board of Education can even approve the course in the first place since they have not formally set financial literacy as a graduation requirement (see Ed 1403.01(b)(1)a for more information). The NH Department of Education is legally required to enter into the formal rulemaking process to add it to the list of graduation requirements under ED 306 (specifically, Ed 306.27(v) Table 306-2). It is legally required to adopt standards that set out what personal finance literacy should encompass as a course of instruction.
In September 2022, the NH Department of Education issued a technical advisory stating that it would fulfill those requirements before the 2023-2024 school year begins. However, they have not formally started that 3-6 month process yet.
They have not done either of those requirements, which raises the question of whether the NH State Board of Education can approve a Learn Everywhere program if it is not a formal graduation requirement, and if there are no state standards that establish what the requirement should entail.
PragerU is a media company founded by conservative talk show host Dennis Prager that creates “edutainment,” or educational entertainment. According to the website, PragerU “offers a free alternative to dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education.” Some of the most popular videos, according to the website, include “Was the Civil War About Slavery?,” “The Inconvenient Truth About the Democratic Party,” “War on Boys,” and “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”
According to USA Today, PragerU has repeatedly presented disinformation, with civic groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League criticizing their videos, describing some as a “dog whistle to the extreme right” and “filled with anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric.”
What is Learn Everywhere?
Learn Everywhere is an administrative procedure that allows the NH SBOE, a board of six members appointed by the Governor, to approve high school curriculum. Once approved, schools are mandated to award high school credit for those courses, whether or not they align with the school district’s approved curriculum, academic standards, or local competencies.
State lawyers raised serious questions about the program’s overreach and breach of local control when the rules that created the Learn Everywhere program were under consideration. Despite legal concerns and “overwhelming” public opposition, the NH SBOE adopted the rules. Since then, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has touted it as a success, even though there has been low interest in the programs.
The program has faced public opposition for the ways in which it outsources and privatizes public education, restricts local control, and widens the opportunity gap for students. Because state funding for public schools continues to be extremely low, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has said that by encouraging students to take classes at private and nonprofit organizations, districts would be able to cut programs offered at their local public schools.
Read more about PragerU and Learn Everywhere:
- Conservative media advocacy group seeking approval to offer public school courses in New Hampshire (Reaching Higher NH, August 2023)
- From Florida to Oklahoma, PragerU’s Propaganda Project Isn’t Slowing Down (Vanity Fair, September 2023)
- PragerU founder admits conservative material is ‘indoctrination’ — it’s now allowed in FL schools (WPLG Local 10, August 2023)
- PragerU in Florida Schools: The controversial curriculum, explained (USA Today, August 2023)
- Low interest in Learn Everywhere programs: Eight students received credit last year; Four programs will not seek reapproval (Reaching Higher NH, October 2022)
- State Board narrowly approves Learn Everywhere, Chair asserting that local control “is a myth” (Reaching Higher NH, June 2019)
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