PragerU says it's approved in Texas schools. It's not.
The conservative group's big announcement that its climate denial videos were approved in Texas public schools appears to be a lie, the Texas State Board of Education tells HEATED.
For the last week, Arielle and I have been trying to report more deeply on the fossil-fueled effort to teach climate denial in public schools.
Specifically, we’ve been looking into the Prager University Foundation, the self-proclaimed “world’s leading conservative nonprofit,” which recently got its “educational” materials on climate change approved for use in Florida public schools.
PragerU’s materials, which have been widely reported on by mainstream media, falsely claim that heat records around the world are “natural;” that wind and solar power pollute the Earth and make life miserable; and compare climate activists to Nazis.
We weren’t surprised PragerU would make these claims. The group—which despite its name, is not a university—“has received millions of dollars from the billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks of Texas, who made their fortune in oil and gas fracking,” Politico reports.
We also weren’t surprised that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration would allow climate denial to be taught in public schools, considering his general disposition on the subject.
Still, the effort to groom kids into climate deniers struck us as uniquely evil, as they’re the ones who will experience the worst effects of climate change. So in the event that other states followed Florida’s lead, we decided to track PragerU’s efforts more closely
As part of that effort, we signed up for PragerU’s email newsletters. And on Monday, we got an email that seemingly confirmed our worst fears.
The subject line read: “PragerU Kids is Now in Texas!”
The email text contained what appeared to be major news. “We are proud to announce that PragerU is an approved education vendor in the state of Texas,” it read.
An attached video featuring Texas State Board of Education member Julie Pickren also seemed to confirm the approval. In it, PragerU CEO Marissa Streit says that pursuant to a bill passed in June by Texas Legislature—House Bill 1605—the group’s materials can now be used in the state’s core knowledge curriculum.
“Teachers who use the core knowledge curriculum can use PragerU videos and books and magazines and all the stuff that we make here,” Streit says.
“Absolutely,” Pickren replies. “That’s the Texas way.”
Again, we weren’t particularly surprised to hear this. We expected Texas might be next to approve PragerU’s educational materials, given Gov. Greg Abbott’s general disposition on climate change.
Still, we needed to confirm the news before reporting it. So Arielle reached out to Keven Ellis, the chair of the Texas State Board of Education.
This is where the surprises started to roll in.
In a response to HEATED, Ellis did not confirm that PragerU material had been approved for use in public school.
Instead, Ellis forcefully denied it.
“I have no knowledge of PragerU submitting any instructional material for approval to the [State Board of Education] in the past,” he wrote, “and specifically I know that Prager U has not submitted any instructional materials to the [State Board of Education] under the new Instructional Material review process that was adopted by the legislature this year.”
Ellis also seemed to be unaware that PragerU was even interested in having materials approved in Texas.
“No one from PragerU has presented to the State Board of Education or has contacted me, as Chair of the State Board of Education, to discuss any working relationship,” he said.
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In a follow-up email, Arielle asked Ellis why Pickren, a member of the Texas State Board of Education, would appear in a PragerU video claiming their materials had been approved if they actually hadn’t been.
Ellis replied: “You would have to ask her why she made that announcement and more specific details of ‘what’ was approved and by ‘whom.’”
Arielle attempted to do just that, and called Pickren’s office. But when she identified herself as a reporter, the person who answered said: “No thank you, she’s busy right now,” and hung up. The person did not identify themself.
Arielle also reached out to PragerU to find out why the announcement had been made. A spokesperson reaffirmed via email, “PragerU is an approved vendor for our supplementary educational content in Texas.” When asked which official approved PragerU Kids, their spokesperson said they’d been working with Pickren.
The assertion is confusing, because it does not appear that Pickren can unilaterally approve educational materials in Texas as a member of the State Board of Education.
In the joint PragerU video announcement, Pickren references HB 1605, a new state law that allows Texas “to develop, write, and publish our own core knowledge curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.” That law includes reforms for the way school materials are approved in Texas, essentially streamlining the review process for educational materials like PragerU.
But the State Board of Education still has oversight over the state’s instructional materials, and new materials are approved after a rigorous, multi-step review process.
PragerU could still eventually become an approved educational vendor in Texas under the law. But Ellis told HEATED, “the earliest that process would take place under the new system would be for a November 2024 approval vote.”
So despite PragerU’s grand announcement, the conservative group is not an approved educational vendor in the state of Texas.
We were initially surprised at this development. But in retrospect, it’s also to be expected.
Misrepresentation is PragerU’s whole shtick. That’s why it includes the word “university” in its name. The entire point of the organization is to mislead people into believing it’s a legitimate educational institution, not a propaganda outlet created by a conservative radio host to promote the political interests of heavy industry.
PragerU has been so successful on this front that it has achieved actual educational status in Florida. But it has not yet been successful at misleading Texas. At least not today.
Catch of the day: Hugo gets pouty when he hears about environmental degradation. Reader Lauren says he loves nature, especially bird watching (aka chasing) and taking soil cores (aka digging).
Curling up under a blanket seems like a perfect way to end the day to us!
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