After receiving a tip from a reader, The Dallas Express discovered that the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) could be using taxpayer money to pay a local education nonprofit for politically-biased afterschool and summer programs.
Big Thought is a Dallas-based nonprofit that offers arts education, “out-of-school time” programs, summer learning opportunities, and “juvenile justice” intervention services to schools and school districts in North Texas.
The organization has worked with DISD since at least the 2014-2015 academic year, and it cited the district as a source of “major philanthropic support.”
According to its website, the organization “equips youth in marginalized communities to imagine and create their best lives and world” by utilizing “social and emotional focus, experiential learning, community-centered partnerships, equity lens and future focus” in its programs.
One such program is dubbed “Artivism,” which teaches teenagers to “curate and create visual and performance art … to advance social justice issues.”
Another, The Fellowship Initiative, focuses on college-aspiring male students. Part of the program includes making participants “examine toxic masculinity and healthy emotional expression all within a Social and Emotional Learning informed space.”
Big Thought’s educational philosophy may stem, at least in part, from its assumption that “income, community resources, race, and English proficiency largely determine opportunities for success,” neglecting other factors like personal responsibility, good parenting, and having the drive to succeed.
The nonprofit’s ethos and program descriptions use many of the same buzzwords deployed by the political left and echo the assumptions that undergird critical race theory (CRT), a lens of social analysis arguing that racism is inherent to the law and institutions of the United States.
The Dallas Express spoke about the issue with Kelly Neidert of the local activist organization Protect Texas Kids.
“This organization peddles in so-called racial equity and social-emotional learning, which are just PR terms for left-wing ideology and politics,” she said.
As previously reported in The Dallas Express, the alleged teaching of CRT in North Texas public schools (which is prohibited by state law) has stirred opposition among some parents and community members who claim such lessons are a racially divisive form of political indoctrination that comes at the expense of academic fundamentals.
Case in point, DISD has struggled for years to provide district students with a quality education, despite the heroic efforts of its hardworking teachers who must abide by a curriculum set by an allegedly politicized school board.
Last school year, nearly 20% of DISD’s graduating Class of 2022 did not graduate on time, and only 41% of all students tested at grade level.
The DISD Board of Trustees passed a resolution in 2021 opposing the banning of teaching CRT just a month before Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that did just that.
During the 2020-2021 academic year, which ended before the bill became law, Big Thought was paid an unspecified amount of taxpayer money from DISD’s Visual & Performing Arts and Teaching & Learning Departments.
According to DISD’s operating budget for that year, the two departments were allotted a rough total of $7 million. However, it is unclear how much taxpayer money the district paid Big Thought for its programs.
A review of the nonprofit’s most recent publicly-available tax filings shows that the organization has been taking in between $1 million and $2.75 million annually from fiscal year 2014 through fiscal year 2020 for “program services.” The filings do not indicate how much of this revenue came from DISD.
The Dallas Express asked a spokesperson from Big Thought how much of its services are paid for by its school district partners compared to fees collected from parents enrolling their children in the programs but did not hear back by press time.
While it is unclear just how many DISD students have gone through the group’s programs, Big Thought claims to “reach more than 14,000 students delivering more than 321,000 learning hours each year.”
“Big Thought is a prime example of how outside vendors and organizations are the entry point for so much of the indoctrination that kids are subjected to,” said Neidert.
The Dallas Express has filed an open records request with DISD, requesting the last few years of itemized budgets for its Visual & Performing Arts and Teaching & Learning Departments.