By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — State Sen. Chris Kapenga wasn’t satisfied with the bureaucratic answers he got from state education superintendent Jill Underly, so he’s asking her to re-do her work.
In an open letter first published at Empower Wisconsin last week, the Senate president asked the Department of Public Instruction chief to explain why DPI brought in a radical political activist to train teachers as part of the agency’s Educational Equity Leadership Series.
A February 2022 webinar featured Charlene Carruthers, and was described as being based on her recent book, Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements. Carruthers told those in attendance that critical race theory is “not the most radical thing to come out. Wait until you hear what we really think, what we really believe in.”
Kapenga said he’d rather not wait. He wanted Underly to tell Wisconsin, “What are these views that parents and the public would be surprised to learn DPI holds to and believes in? It’s clear that Ms. Carruthers recognizes a solidarity between herself and DPI, DPI staff, other speakers in the leadership series, and her audience. So, please tell me.”
The senator also wanted to know whether DPI would be asking speakers with alternative views to radical activism, white privilege, systemic racism and sexual identity to lead future webinars. Will DPI make the webinars accessible to the public? And how does this subject matter meet the stated purpose of IDEA: to make available “a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensure special education and related services to those children?”
In her response, Underly opened with a bunch of bureaucratic-ese about the Disproportionality Technical Assistance Network that delivers speakers like Carruthers to Wisconsin’s public school teachers. It’s the equity agenda pushed by President Biden’s U.S. Department of Education and built for a decade by former DPI secretary and now governor, Tony Evers. Underly says DPI uses “discretionary administrative funds from the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act 2004 (IDEA) to provide training and information through The Network.”
Underly’s answers to Kapenga’s questions were in the cult-like language of the contemporary educrat.
“While DPI does not purport to hold every viewpoint that each of its funded speakers holds, DPI maintains a strong commitment to the principles of educational equity,” Underly’s response states. “DPI works to ensure that every child, regardless of zip code, has access to quality public education programs, enrichment opportunities, and special education supports, so that all of our kids can be successful. Wisconsin has significant disparities in achievement data that is predictable based on race and disability status …” It keeps going. You can read the entire response here.
In a follow-up letter, Kapenga scolds the educrat, telling her she failed to answer his questions.
He asks two more:
- How does the topic of providing a playbook “for people who are interested in, or already committed to social justice and transformation,” as taught by activist and political strategist Ms. Carruthers, assist teachers in helping children with disabilities to excel in school, thrive in society, and eliminate gaps in opportunity and achievement, which is the mission of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
- In this video, captured by MacIver News Service, DPI staff clearly agrees with Ms. Carruthers that there is more to come beyond Critical Race Theory. You did not answer the question about what it is they actually think and believe in. Perhaps your staff can enlighten the both of us so I will have a response to constituent concerns.
You responded that “DPI does not purport to hold every viewpoint that each of its funded speaker holds,” but I hope you agree that DPI has an important responsibility in vetting speakers when giving them a platform to advocate for their work and viewpoints. Ultimately, DPI is by default lending credibility to each speaker and advocating for the speaker’s ideas to be useful to teachers, and potentially unveiled in the classroom to our children.
Please answer my specific questions and help me in my attempt to explain to the taxpayers who funded this talk what information Ms. Carruthers provided to the teachers that will help them increase the reading, writing, and math scores of the children who are lagging their peers in these areas.
In the spirit of transparency, I hope you will provide clear answers to the above questions, and thoughtfully consider if adjustments are necessary concerning the relevancy of the topics in meeting the goals of helping our children as stated by DPI and IDEA.
Once again, I look forward to your responses to my questions.