Noem bars S. Dakota from applying for federal history grants

Stephen Groves
Associated Press

Sioux Falls, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Thursday barred the state's Department of Education from applying for federal grants in history or civics over concerns about how certain teachings on systemic racism would be tied to the grants.

The U.S. Department of Education this month backed away from proposed grant guidelines that suggested using curricula that teach racism is embedded into the country's institutions. After releasing proposed rules for the $3 million American History and Civics Education grant program in April that included references to the New York Times’ “1619 Project” and “anti-racism” teaching, the U.S. Department of Education had faced backlash from conservatives, who argued it was an example of critical race theory making its way into elementary and high school classrooms.

Critical race theory is an academic framework that examines history through the lens of racism. There is little to no evidence that critical race theory itself is being taught to K-12 public school students, though some ideas central to it, such as lingering consequences of slavery, have been.

But even with the U.S. Department of Education's changes, South Dakota's Republican governor still wanted no part in the grants. She argued the grant proposals “still advocate critical race theory in all but name.” Noem has pushed to remake the state's history and civics curriculum this year with a focus on “patriotic” education.

“Our students should learn America’s true history by studying both our triumphs and our mistakes,” she said in a statement. "Only then will students learn that America remains the shining example of exceptionalism throughout the history of the world.”

Before the U.S. Department of Education changed the guidelines, Noem's Education Secretary Tiffany Sanderson had criticized the proposed guidelines and said that she had not planned to apply for the grants. South Dakota’s Legislature had also instructed her not to apply.

The U.S. Department of Education's finalized application notice, published this month, encourages curricula that reflect “the diversity, identities, histories, contributions, and experiences of all students” and creates “inclusive, supportive, and identity-safe learning environments.”

President Joe Biden's Education Secretary Miguel Cardona had explained in a blog run by the department that the grants would not come with specific strings attached. He wrote that the program was aimed at promoting “a more active, engaged society," but added, “This program, however, has not, does not, and will not dictate or recommend specific curriculum be introduced or taught in classrooms. Those decisions are — and will continue to be — made at the local level.”

South Dakota lawmakers plan next month to consider instructing the state's public universities to refrain from applying for federal grants for history or civics teaching.