Editors note: This story has been updated to reflect the State Board of Education has not yet voted to approve use of PragerU materials in Texas schools.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Monday, PragerU announced it is now an educational vendor in Texas, according to a video posted to its website. The company said that means teachers have the options to use its lessons in classrooms. However, there are still a few more steps needed before that becomes official.
Texas would be the second state, after Florida, to approve material from the conservative nonprofit to be used in schools, according to its release. The Hill reported in Florida, the videos aren’t required content but “aligns to Florida’s revised civics and government standards and can be used as supplemental materials.”
In Texas, the use of PragerU content would be similar. The “State Board of Education has authority under new statute to review and approve commercially available instructional material, such as those sold by PragerU. We welcome all publishers to participate in the SBOE’s review and approval process,” the Texas Education Agency said.
The Texas Comptroller’s office approved PragerU as a vendor, the TEA said. But to be used in the classroom, the materials need to get approval from the State Board of Education to be included on the list of approved instructional materials
The SBOE has not yet given that approval. The board is scheduled to meet Aug. 29-Sept. 1 in Austin.
Resources for teachers
School districts throughout the state are still working to fill teacher vacancies. Lawmakers filed multiple bills in an attempt to support schools and address those shortages during the latest legislative session. House Bill 1605 addressed supplemental educational materials in Texas schools.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 1605 in June which creates a new SBOE process of vetting instructional materials and give districts who use those materials additional funding.
It “seeks to increase access to high-quality instructional material for students, give necessary relief to teachers, and provide more transparency for parents,” according to a Texas Senate Committee report.
The law overhauls how Texas approves these materials. Before, the TEA had a review process, and the SBOE also had a process where it “issues a proclamation to call for new instructional materials,” according to its website.
“Instead, a new unified process is built with checks and balances, where TEA does instructional materials reviews subject to SBOE oversight, and materials are ultimately approved by SBOE. A funding formula, supplemental to the Instructional Materials Allotment, of $40/student is provided to buy SBOE-approved materials, as long as those materials are made available by publishers in an online portal for parents to easily browse,” the Senate committe bill analysis noted.
As part of the process to provide more resources for teachers in Texas, the TEA said it has sent out Request for Proposals for vendors.
On Monday, Texas Board of Education Member Julie Pickren, District 7, appeared in PragerU’s announcement video. She discussed what the TEA clarified is the state’s effort of creating its own “set of instructional materials in a few grades and subjects, as open education resources.”
“Texas is now going to develop, write and publish our own core knowledge curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade,” Pickren said.
PragerU CEO Marissa Streit noted on the video its role will be creating “supplementary lesson plans so the teachers who use the core knowledge curriculum can use PragerU videos and books and magazines.”
The TEA specified it does not have a partnership with PragerU. There is no tracking mechanism in place to determine how many districts might use the products, according to the TEA.
What is PragerU?
On its website, PragerU describes itself as a nonprofit that promotes “American values through the creative use of educational videos that reach millions of people online,” going on to specify it “offers a free alternative to the dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education.”
“PragerU is not an accredited university, nor do we claim to be. We don’t offer degrees, but we do provide educational, entertaining, pro-American videos for every age,” the nonprofit stated at the bottom of its site.
Shows on its website include ones about history (characters Leo and Leyla meet figures that include founding father Alexander Hamilton, the Biblical King David and “I Love Lucy’s” Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz), financial literacy (courses about understanding taxes and student loans, among others) as well as “how tos” (such as “How to Ask for Help,” “How To Be a Victor & Not a Victim” and “How to be a Rational Patriot.“)
KXAN reached out to school districts in Central Texas and asked whether they’d be open to using PragerU content in schools. We will update this story when we receive a response.
Jennifer White and Jessica Van Kline have children in Central Texas school districts. Both watched PragerU’s video, “Leo & Layla’s History Adventures with Frederick Douglass,” a video that’s stirred up some controversy online.
The video begins with the two children watching news clips about racial justice protests, then using an app to look up what “abolish” means and travel back in time to meet Douglass “to learn about activism and abolishing things.”
NBC News reported mixed reactions to it, particularly a section where Douglass said, “I’m certainly not OK with slavery. But the founding fathers made a compromise to achieve something great: the making of the United States. If they immediately outlawed slavery after winning independence, the southern colonies would have formed their own slave-owning country.”
Van Kline said her initial reaction was that it “minimized the gravity of slavery.”
“As a Black mother, it really frightens me to have my children growing up not understanding the truth of their history. I feel as though there are two points being made in the video. One is the retelling of history and the other is the erasure of very important aspects of their history,” Van Kline said.
She also thought the video beginning at the start had the kids “watching present-day happenings in a negative light.”
“It absolutely sends the wrong message. We have the kids in the beginning of the video looking at current day, looking at protesters in a very negative way, when part of what this country was built on was our freedom of speech and our ability to speak up,” Van Kline added.
White said she appreciated how the video addressed topics kids are seeing in the media, and showed how they are often responding by looking things up online.
“It’s great to see that there is an educational outlet that they can be given that gives a little context of what’s going on currently, and what — where the founding fathers, what we’re talking right here — what happened and what not to do again and why the foundation of our country was created. There were mistakes. They were corrected. But I like seeing that it’s age appropriate,” White said.
White told KXAN she wishes something like PragerU would have been available years ago.
“This can be a great resource just to plug, with having the content already prepared … that is going to be wholesome,” White said. “I love that it’s patriotic … I like seeing it that it’s age appropriate … We should be educating our kids. This is great content.”