Iowa Republicans seek to cut funding for schools with 1619 Project in curriculum

Republican state representatives in Iowa on Tuesday advanced legislation that seeks to mandate funding and budget cuts for schools that include The New York Times’s 1619 Project in their history curriculum.

According to The Gazette, the bill advanced from a three-member subcommittee on Tuesday after approval from state Rep. Henry Stone (R) and state Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R), who filed the measure. As a result, the paper reports the state House’s Education Committee can now take up the bill for consideration.

If passed, the bill states that schools would be punished for utilizing “any United States history curriculum that in whole or in part is derived from a project by the New York Times, known as the ‘1619 Project,’ or any similarly developed curriculum.”

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Should a school violate the rule, the bill goes on to state that the school districts’ budgets would be “reduced by one one-hundred-eightieth for each day of the previous budget year for which the school district used school curriculum” in violation of the section.

Wheeler outlined similar reductions for state aid payments for schools that violate the rule in his bill, as well reductions for community colleges and regents institutions.

The bill accused the Times’s project of attempting to “deny or obfuscate the fundamental principles upon which the United States was founded” and stressed that the “general assembly has a strong interest in promoting an accurate account of this nation’s history through public schools and forming young people into knowledgeable and patriotic citizens.”   

The measure is one of a number of introduced by GOP legislators in a handful of states in recent weeks that is aimed at preventing schools from focusing on the project in their curriculum.

The 1619 Project is an initiative that was launched by The New York Times Magazine in 2019 that aims to “reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States.”  

It includes a collection of essays and pieces from writers that examine “different aspects of contemporary American life, from mass incarceration to rush-hour traffic, that have their roots in slavery and its aftermath,” according to a statement from the publication explaining the project. 

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The Times also said last year that the series has been used as "an educational tool by more than 4,000 teachers in all 50 states — augmenting, not replacing, the traditional curriculum for teaching U.S. history" as it has gone on to draw widespread praise following its launch.

During the subcommittee on Tuesday, Wheeler accused the project of seeking to “tear down America,” calling the series “leftist political propaganda masquerading as history,” according to the Gazette.

He also reportedly claimed the project was “shredded” by historians and instead backed the 1776 Report — which was created by a commission ordered by former President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE in apparent response to the Times’s 1619 Project.

That report, which attacks critical race theory and was released in the last days of the previous administration, was also the subject of scathing criticism from civil rights groups and historians.

While the 1619 Project has drawn pushback from Republicans, as well as its own critiques from some historians, the project was also selected by faculty at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and other prominent journalists as one of the “Top Ten Works of Journalism of the Decade.”

The series additionally resulted in Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones receiving the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her work on the project, which she came up with.

According to the Gazette, a number of education groups came out against Wheeler’s legislation this week, suggesting the bill amounted to an overreach by state legislators. 

Iowa state Rep. Ras Smith (D) also opposed the measure in a statement obtained by the local paper on Tuesday.

“It’s interesting some of the facts and truths that for some reason can’t coexist,” Smith said.

“Fact: George Washington was a founding father. Fact: George Washington was a slave owner. That’s the complexity of America. How do we move further past these divisive times if we’re not even willing to acknowledge one truth, one fact?” he added.