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Democrats on the State Board of Education pledge to fight efforts to introduce PragerU in Texas

Texas State Board of Education members Marisa B. Pérez-Díaz, Aicha Davis, and Staci Childs speak at a news conference on Tuesday, Aug. 29 inside the State Capitol building.
Becky Fogel
Texas State Board of Education members Marisa B. Pérez-Díaz, Aicha Davis, and Staci Childs speak at a news conference on Tuesday, Aug. 29 inside the State Capitol building.

Democratic members of the Texas State Board of Education held a news conference Tuesday to clear up confusion surrounding PragerU, a conservative media company that claims its educational materials are available in the state because it was on the "approved vendor list."

"Although that is not currently true, the bold and misleading announcement encapsulates the gravity of the situation," board member Aicha Davis of Dallas said. "It highlights the efforts by PragerU and radical elected officials to introduce their misleading and false curriculum into our public schools."

The announcement Davis is referring to was made in a video PragerU released on Aug. 21, featuring its CEO Marissa Streit and Julie Pickren, a Houston-area Republican on the State Board of Education.

"We are definitely ready to welcome PragerU into the great state of Texas," Pickren said in the video.

Pickren, who did not reply to KUT's request for comment, later clarified on social media that the State Board of Education had not approved PragerU as a vendor.

Instead, she said, PragerU was now on the Texas Comptroller's Centralized Master Bidder List, which any vendor seeking to work with the state can sign up for.

State Board of Education member Staci Childs of Houston said joining that list is simple.

"All you have to do is pay a $70 fee and create an online account," she said at the news conference.

Getting approval from the State Board of Education is a completely separate vetting process.

Childs also said it was disheartening Pickren would align herself with PragerU's content, which promotes inaccurate information on a number of topics including slavery.

"Not only did it hurt my feelings but it was shocking that she's willing to say PragerU is coming to Texas and they're spewing lies," she said. "And they're OK with spewing lies to millions of students whether they're Black or not — millions of students that live in Texas."

Despite its name, PragerU is not a university. Author and conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager founded the group in 2009. In the group's 2023 biannual report, he described PragerU as a bulwark against the left.

"The left is a force for chaos. They will stop at nothing to convince the American people only big government will save them," he wrote.

Marisa B. Pérez-Díaz, D-San Antonio

While the Texas State Board of Education has not OK'd PragerU as a vendor, Florida has. The Republican-led state is the first in the U.S. to approve the use of the group's videos in public school classrooms. Davis said she has come to expect that when something happens in Florida, it will end up making its way to Texas.

"I have seen a trend of that happening. So when PragerU was adopted in Florida, I knew to be on the lookout for it to come to Texas," she said.

While Texas teachers can use PragerU materials with or without the state board's approval, Davis and other board members pledged to oppose any effort to formally approve the group's content.

"You can count on me, if I have anything to do with it, PragerU will not be in Texas," Childs said.

Marisa B. Pérez-Díaz, a Democrat from San Antonio, added that if she and other board members ever do review PragerU as a potential vendor, Pickren should recuse herself from the process.

"For PragerU and an SBOE member to give the perception that it's been endorsed in Texas is a complete fallacy and stands against everything that the State Board of Education has set forth for decades and decades," she said.

Several advocacy groups also joined the board members in expressing opposition to PragerU. Texas Freedom Network's Senior Political Director Carisa Lopez described the organization's content as "political propaganda."

"This is a clear equity issue," she said. "Texas public schools represent children from all backgrounds and our curriculums should tell the truth about our history."

According to the Texas Education Agency, there are nearly 5.5 million public school students in the state. More than half of the students are Hispanic, about one-fourth are white, nearly 13% are Black, about 5% are Asian, and roughly 3% are multiracial.

"Children deserve an accurate, honest education that teaches them the truth about climate change, history, gender identity and more," Lopez said.

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Becky Fogel is the editor and producer of statewide newscasts for the Texas Newsroom. She previously worked for the shows Texas Standard and Science Friday. She got her start in radio at KWBU-FM in Waco.