EXCLUSIVE: A group of Senate Republicans led by Sen. Bill Cassidy is pressing Education Secretary Miguel Cardona over a panel in his department they say is stacked with liberal activists who support issues like critical race theory and gun control.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, it became evident that facilitating the relationship between schools and parents is most successfully chartered at the local level,” the Cassidy, R-La., letter to Cardona said. “Therefore I welcome the stated purpose of this council; however, it is troubling that you seem to have forgotten to include any actual families or local officials on it.”
“Instead, the Department has filled the Council with organizations that have limited, if any engagement on the local level,” the letter continued. “Most, if not all, of these organizations are liberal advocacy groups that seek to nationalize our education systems into a one-size-fits-all system while eliminating parental choice and leaving the individual needs of our students behind.”
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The controversy over the committee, officially called the National Parents and Families Engagement Council, comes amid conservative discontent over how the Biden administration has handled parental involvement in schools. Last year, Cardona solicited a letter from the National School Boards Association that that compared protesting parents to domestic terrorists.
Cassidy is seeking to become the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee next year. He was joined on the letter to the Education Department head by Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Tim Scott, R-S.C.
Perhaps the most explicitly political group on the council is National Action Network, which is led by Democratic activist Al Sharpton. Biden spoke at that group’s national convention.
Another group, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, expressed support for stricter gun control positions held by the liberal group Everytown for Gun Safety, as well as major teachers unions American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. It also sued to keep Virginia’s mask mandate in schools, according to the Cassidy-led letter.
The group League of United Latin American Citizens, meanwhile, is led by a former Democratic state representative in Texas.
The National Parents Union, also a member of the council, meanwhile wrote a May 2021 op-ed in the Education Post defending critical race theory.
“The National Parents Union believes that education systems must be transformed to eradicate generational institutions of oppression,” the op-ed said. “For this reason, we strongly oppose the political and social movement that seeks to eliminate critical race theory from public education.”
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A lawsuit from the America First Legal Foundation against the council filed in July also alleges that 11 of the 14 groups on the council are made up of donors to President Biden and Democrats. Meanwhile, that lawsuit said, none of the leaders of those groups are donors to conservative groups or have publicly criticized the president’s policy on students.
“For the sake of parents, teachers, and students across the nation, if this overtly partisan Council continues, it is not too late for the Department to invite parents and families to the discussion,” the Republican senators wrote. They said they hopped the department would take steps “to engage parents and families, or disband the council altogether.”
The Republicans’ letter also says the group’s makeup may violate federal law which says such a panel should be “fairly balanced” regarding the views of its members.
“While the Department once again ignores laws passed by Congress, the families it claims to want to engage are left behind,” the letter says.
Earlier this year, Cardona’s DOE hit back against criticism of the council in a court filing opposing the America First Legal Foundation’s lawsuit. It said, effectively, that the group is not official enough to fall under the law the Republicans say the group may break – the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).
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“The Council does not meet the FACA criteria because it does not have an organized structure, make final group recommendations, have a fixed membership, or have a specific purpose,” the department said in a court filing.
“The Department created the Council ‘to facilitate strong and effective relationships between schools and parents, families, and caregivers to help ensure that students are recovering from the pandemic and will thrive in the future,'” the filing added. “These are important public goals.”
In a separate document in that lawsuit, the Education Department said it denied the claim that the council’s membership is skewed to the left, but did not elaborate. It, however, said it didn’t have knowledge about specific allegations that the council members were biased to the left.
The Education Department did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the letter Friday.