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Federal grants to 'promote equity' in education raise red flags with parent group

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The federal government is continuing to place an emphasis on equity-based education as parents instead call for student success in core subjects to be prioritized.

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) opened applications for this fiscal year's American History and Civics Education National Activities (AHC-NA) grant program Friday. The program is designed to foster "innovative American history and civics education" at the K-12 level, with an emphasis on assisting students from low-income backgrounds and underserved communities.

Higher education institutions and nonprofit educational organizations are all eligible to apply for the grants, as long as they intend to provide public school officials with equity-based professional development and learning opportunities. Applicants are selected based on how well their proposed projects align with the equity goals outlined by the DOE.

"The Department recognizes the negative impact that inadequate access to and the inequitable distribution of resources have on the educational experience of students who represent traditionally underserved communities," the program announcement reads. "Such examples of inadequate or inequitable access to educational resources can lead to the students from higher poverty schools having fewer opportunities for educational enrichment and a lower likelihood that they will have access to well-rounded coursework and high-quality college and career pathway programs."

The announcement goes on to say one of the program's top priorities is to "promote equity in student access to educational resources and opportunities."

The DOE feels this approach will help ensure all students receive a proper education and, ultimately, "meaningfully participate" in democracy. However, parental rights advocates say the sentiments contradict those expressed by families across the U.S.

"Equity, we need to distinguish, is separate from equality," Nicole Neily, president of national nonprofit Parents Defending Education (PDE), told Crisis in the Classroom (CITC). "There is not equality of opportunities, it's equality of outcomes."

Neily says parents themselves have long fought for students from underserved communities to have access to better educational opportunities, pointing to increasing support for school choice. However, she feels that devoting classroom time and effort to projects like those selected by the DOE show "misplaced priorities" as students work to recover academically following the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It feels like yet another distraction from a period of time that our children have watched years of their life slip away, and we're continuing to exacerbate that, and in this case with this grant program, perhaps even accelerate that," Neily told CITC. "I want my children to actually be learning while they're in school, and not four hours of their school day being devoted to identity politics or equity or action civics or media literacy, like different things that are being pushed in this grant program."

The DOE notes that while it does not make curriculum decisions, it hopes that the program will encourage teaching practices that "reflect the diversity of identities, histories, contributions, and experiences to support enriched educational opportunity, equity, and success for all students."

The DOE is estimating $650,000 to be allocated to this year's grants.

CITC reached out to the DOE for comment, but did not receive a response prior to publication. This story will be updated if a response is received.

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