Wisconsin State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly wrote an open letter, “as a fellow parent and a former teacher” condemning politicians who “have gone after teachers” to micromanage curricula and prey on parents’ emotions in an open letter for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) addressed to the state’s families and educators.
Despite her criticism of politicians, Underly’s own campaign finance records show her spring 2021 campaign was primarily funded by liberal donors and political action committees.
“Like you, I know what it means to be involved with my children’s education, and I love it,” the state superintendent wrote. “But I look at the way politicians talk about parental involvement, and I don’t recognize it. Family engagement isn’t about yelling at school staff or suing your school board if they don’t do exactly as you demand.”
This type of family engagement “isn’t what politicians mean when they talk about protecting parental rights,” but instead an attempt at “micromanaging curriculum and preying on our parental emotions during a traumatic time,” Underly said.
The education official hinted at the cultural issues that have dominated school board meetings across the country since the start of the pandemic, including mask mandates, vaccine requirements, Critical Race Theory (CRT), school closures and gender policies.
Politicians have an “ulterior motive of placing suspicion on educators by weaponizing lessons about difficult topics, or by placing blame on schools for a pandemic they did not cause but are nonetheless supporting our children through,” she said.
“As to my fellow educators, you and I all know that this isn’t the first time that politicians in this state have gone after teachers,” Underly said. “And as a former civics teacher, I know that teaching the history of this nation cannot – and should not – be done without tackling difficult topics.”
She said “the only way” for children to engage with history is through public schools, “where this freedom to think critically is encouraged and the skill of thinking critically is actively taught.”
“I’m really, really tired of politicians pitting parents against teachers when our children are the ones who get hurt in the end,” the superintendent, whose election campaign received over $1.1 million from political action committees (PACs) and interest groups, concluded.
A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund, which the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) describes as “an outside electioneering group first created in 2020 to back Democratic and liberal candidates” spent over $780,000 supporting Underly’s campaign.
Donors to Underly’s campaign who provided between $5,000 and $20,000 included Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin Political Fund, the “liberal leaning group” Blue Sky Waukesha, Inc., “social and environmental justice group” Many Stones Consulting, education equity group Higher Expectations, climate change advocacy group the Brico Fund and Red Hat Inc., according to the WDC.
Educational consultant Deborah Kerr, who lost to Underly in the April 2021 election, was backed by conservative donors such as the American Federation for Children Action Fund – Wisconsin IE Committee, which supports school voucher programs in Wisconsin and around the country, and the Rebecca PAC, which was created by former Republican Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, according to the WDC.
Underly ran on an “Educational Equity for All” platform, which she described as a “vision for PK-12 public education in Wisconsin … rooted in equity,” according to her campaign website. She pledged to establish “a cabinet-level officer in DPI Administration that will oversee the equity work” in the agency in addition to school district programming.
Parents fighting against the implementation of CRT have denounced “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) efforts as a tenet of CRT.
The primary tenets of CRT “carry forward the racially based education and political ideology as well as psychologically manipulative curriculum,” Scott Mineo, a Virginia parent and founder of Parents Against Critical Race Theory (PACT) previously told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Underly said one of her “passions” is “equity audits,” which she described as a way to “identify areas that are not working for all kids, or areas that need additional resources to make them truly equitable for our students.”
Equity audits have been criticized by parents and concerned community members at school districts across the country. Third-party companies often distribute equity audits or surveys to collect student data, which equity consultants then analyze to implement race-based equity practices and policies in public schools.
In some instances, students are asked to complete the surveys without the consent of their parents. For example, a fourth grade student in Minnesota was told not to tell her parents about an “equity survey” she and her classmates were instructed to take at school or “repeat any of the questions to … any other adult in her life.”
A “Consultant Report Card” compiled by Parents Defending Education (PDE) details hundreds of public school districts and agencies across all 50 states and the District of Columbia that have hired diversity, equity and inclusion consultants. Public schools across the U.S. have paid millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars to equity consultants “to push divisive ideologies” and transform American schools “from institutions of education to places of woke indoctrination,” according to PDE analysis.
When reached for comment, the Wisconsin DPI told the DCNF that “parents and teachers alike support Dr. Underly thanks to her experience in our schools and her dedication to our state’s children.”
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