PolitiFact

PolitiFact: DeSantis Falsely Claims Biden Trying to ‘Buy Off' States to Adopt Critical Race Theory

The "Civics Secures Democracy Act" would authorize the education secretary to make grants to support educational programs in civics. It doesn’t mention critical race theory.

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What to Know

  • DeSantis’ claim ignores a provision in the Civics Secures Democracy Act that prevents the education secretary from imposing curricula, such as critical race theory, on states that accept the grant funding.
  • The bill would award $585 million to state education agencies for civics initiatives annually for six years -  totaling about $3.5 billion, not $6 billion.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized President Joe Biden for what he said were attempts to "indoctrinate students" with critical race theory.

In a press conference, DeSantis hailed the state’s improving test scores on civics and history and contrasted Florida’s approach — which included contentious civics training for educators — with the Biden administration’s "ideological agenda."

"These efforts all come as Congress considers the misleadingly titled ‘Civics Secures Democracy Act,’ which would allow the Biden Administration to buy off states with $6 billion if they sacrifice American History for Critical Race Theory and Biden’s other political whims of the day," DeSantis said in a press release on June 30. 

If passed, the Civics Secures Democracy Act, introduced with bipartisan support in 2022, will prioritize civics education and devote $1 billion annually to bolster the effort. 

We wondered whether DeSantis was right that the legislation provides $6 billion to states that incorporate critical race theory, a broad set of ideas about systemic bias and privilege, into their curricula. 

PolitiFact found that DeSantis’ portrayal was inaccurate. The bill would authorize the education secretary to make grants to support educational programs in civics. It doesn’t mention critical race theory.

The bill doesn’t provide a financial incentive for states to adopt critical race theory

The legislation was introduced in June by a bipartisan group of senators, including Republicans Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and John Cornyn of Texas, Democrats Chris Coons of Delaware and Mark Kelly of Arizona, and independent Angus King of Maine.

DeSantis and other Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have condemned the bill, suggesting it will give the federal government the financial backing to compel states to adopt critical race theory. 

Cornyn defended the legislation from Republican criticism, tweeting on June 20 that such claims are "hysterical" and "not a serious discussion of our bill."

Further, the evidence tying the Civics Secures Democracy Act to critical race theory is rife with speculation. DeSantis’ argument ignores a provision in the bill that reads: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the Secretary of Education to prescribe a civics and history curriculum."

David Shultz, professor of political science and legal studies at Hamline University, told PolitiFact that if the bill becomes law, the U.S. Department of Education "will lack any administrative authority to create rules to mandate a curriculum."

"There is no truth to the claim that the proposed Civics Secures Democracy Act is a backdoor effort to mandate the teaching of critical race theory," Shultz said. "There is no precedent for the federal government to mandate state education curriculum, and it is not clear that the federal government has the authority to do that even if it tried."

When we asked DeSantis about his claim, spokesperson Christina Pushaw said there is "extensive evidence" that the Biden administration is promoting "ideological indoctrination," pointing to an article from the National Review, a conservative magazine. 

The article didn’t provide credible evidence that the measure would "buy off" states and relied heavily on prediction. It said the bill’s direction to prioritize grant proposals that will close gaps in "civic knowledge and achievement" among "underserved students" is a push for critical race theory. 

The article then suggested the criteria for receiving the grants could entice states to conform their curricula to "federal demands," such as when states began adopting Common Core, a set of national educational standards. 

Common Core’s critics have often accused the federal government of coercing states into adopting the standards in exchange for grant money. We have fact-checked similar claims about Common Core before and found them inaccurate. 

A U.S. Department of Education spokesperson directed PolitiFact to a webpage explaining the federal government’s role in education. 

"Education is primarily a state and local responsibility in the United States," the website reads. States and communities "establish schools and colleges, develop curricula and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation."

2021 blog post from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said his department "has not, does not, and will not dictate or recommend specific curriculum be introduced or taught in classrooms."

DeSantis also conflated the amount of federal grant funding offered to state education agencies. 

The Civics Secures Democracy Act would set aside about $6 billion for federal civics education grant programs over the next six years — but much of it would not go to the states.

The bill would award $585 million to state education agencies for civics initiatives annually for six years — totaling about $3.5 billion. The rest of the funding would go to nonprofit organizations, universities, researchers and a new fellowship program. 

Our ruling

DeSantis said the Civics Secures Democracy Act "would allow the Biden administration to buy off states with $6 billion" and compel them to adopt critical race theory.

But his claim ignores a provision in the bill that prevents the education secretary from imposing a curriculum on states that accept the grant funding. Also, the legislation does not mention critical race theory. Instead, it prioritizes grant proposals that improve civic knowledge among "traditionally underserved students."

DeSantis also misrepresented the amount of grant funding reserved for the states. The bill would award $585 million to state education agencies for civics initiatives annually for six years — totaling about $3.5 billion, not $6 billion. 

The rest of the funding would be given to nonprofit organizations, universities, researchers and a new fellowship program. 

We rate DeSantis’ claim False.

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