In a video exchange that rocketed around the internet, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., falsely said that a single Illinois school received $5.1 billion that it used for “equity and diversity.”
Greene’s comments came during a House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing about COVID-19 spending. She questioned Gene Dodaro, the head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, about money she said went to abortion, drag queen story hour and critical race theory.
Here is their Feb. 1 exchange:
Greene: “Mr. Dodaro, can you tell me how much COVID cash went to CRT?”
Greene: “Critical race theory in education. It’s a racist curriculum used to teach children that somehow their white skin is not equal to black skin and other things in education.”
Dodaro: “I do not know that. But I do know there are provisions that the federal funds generally are not supposed to be used for curriculum.”
Greene: “Oh, Mr. Dodaro. I have to tell you in Illinois that they received $5.1 billion at an elementary school there that used it for equity and diversity.”
The funding Greene is discussing came from the 2021 American Rescue Plan, a stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included billions to support school reopenings. Illinois received about $5.1 billion, with the majority of that split among the state’s roughly 850 school districts. The state did not receive $5.1 billion for a single school.
Greene spokesperson Nick Dyer told us that Greene was referring to money allocated to elementary and secondary schools across Illinois, not just one school. But even without that detail, Greene’s characterization of the funding is inaccurate. The money wasn’t used solely for equity or diversity, and also wasn’t used for teaching critical race theory.
Critical race theory is a collection of ideas about systemic bias and privilege that has its roots in legal academia stretching to the 1970s. But since 2021 it has become an explosive flashpoint in America’s state legislatures, where some legislators have sought to ban it despite lack of evidence that it is being taught in schools.
Lear Preston, 4, who attends Scott Joplin Elementary School, participates in her virtual classes as her mother, Brittany Preston, background, assists at their residence in Chicago’s South Side, Feb. 10, 2021. (AP)
How Illinois planned to spend COVID money on schools
To receive the American Rescue Plan funding, every state submitted plans to the federal government explaining how they would spend the money. Illinois said a portion of the money would be directed to helping groups of students who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, such as low-income students. The state’s school districts also planned to use the funding for tutoring, after-school programs and special education, as well as completing building improvements and hiring teachers.
Ninety percent of the American Rescue Plan funding received in Illinois flowed directly to school districts, which then determined locally how to spend their money, said Jackie Matthews, Illinois State Board of Education spokesperson. The rest of the money went to the state.
Dyer cited an April 28, 2022, Fox News story that said Illinois was among the Democratic-led states using pandemic aid to push CRT in schools. Fox News quoted portions of sentences in Illinois’ 64-page plan, including that the state’s strategies included “an emphasis on equity and diversity.”
All states were asked by the federal government to explain how they would serve underserved populations, and Illinois was not the only state plan that included efforts related to equity or diversity. For example:
Students work with Davetra Richardson in a classroom at Chalmers Elementary school in Chicago, July 13, 2022. Chicago received about $1.8 billion in pandemic relief money from the American Rescue Plan in 2021. (AP)
How Illinois schools spent the money
The Chicago district, the state’s largest with more than 322,000 students, received about $1.8 billion through the American Rescue Plan.
A Chicago schools document said money earmarked for equity would be spent to address “the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and communities experiencing poverty.” About 89% of students in Chicago Public Schools are racial minorities, and 73% are “economically disadvantaged.”
About $578 million was slated for programs including special education staffing and expanding pre-K programs.
An October analysis by education publication Chalkbeat Chicago and the nonprofit news organization Better Government Association showed that many school districts in Illinois, particularly in high-poverty areas, have been slow to spend the federal money.
The state data they analyzed, which excluded Chicago, showed that poorer districts were more likely to spend on school facilities, such as building repairs, removing asbestos and building new playgrounds. Wealthier districts spent more on supplies, including COVID-19 testing and protective equipment, and teacher salaries.
An Illinois state dashboard of federal COVID-19 relief money received during the Trump and Biden administrations showed on Feb. 2 that districts have spent only about 33% of money provided by the American Rescue Plan. Districts have until the end of September 2024 to spend the funding.
Two professors told us that Illinois’ plan was not an example of critical race theory.
“Meeting the learning and developmental needs of children is good government,” said John Rogers, an education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who researched the recent campaign to ban CRT in schools. “It is not ‘critical race theory,’” which is an academic approach “to understand how social, political, and legal structures are shaped by concepts of race and historical experiences of racism.”
The state’s plan mentions the goal of “digital equity,” a reference to the fact that some students did not have home computers or internet access to participate in remote learning in 2020, and subsequently fell behind academically.
“This is dealing with the actual consequences of the pandemic for all kids — this is white kids, rural kids, kids of color all over the state not having access to schooling when schools closed,” said Amanda E. Lewis, director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois. “There is nothing theoretical about any of this.”
Greene said Illinois “received $5.1 billion at an elementary school there that used it for equity and diversity.”
Greene’s spokesperson said she wasn’t referring to a single school but rather to federal pandemic aid received by schools statewide. But even without that detail, Greene’s characterization of the funding is inaccurate.
The money earmarked for equity was to help students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including low-income students, and did not fund critical race theory.
Illinois school districts also planned to use the money for tutoring, after-school programs and special education, as well as completing building improvements and hiring teachers.
We rate this statement False.
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