Sen. Cotton Introduces Bill Prohibiting Federal Funds for Schools Using ‘1619 Project’ Curriculum

July 27, 2020 Updated: July 27, 2020

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has introduced a bill that would prohibit federal funds from going toward the teaching of New York Times’s “1619 Project,” which he called a “racially divisive, revisionist account of history.”

During an interview on Sunday with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cotton defended the bill he introduced to Congress that would cut federal funding to public schools where the “1619 Project” is being taught as part of history curricula.

The 1619 Project is championed by New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, who considers the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the year of 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia, as the true beginning of the history of the United States. Aiming to “reframe American history,” the project consists of a set of essays the argue, among many other controversial revisionist claims, that the American Revolution was primarily fought to preserve slavery.

A curriculum based on the project has already been implemented in public school districts across the nation, notably in Chicago, Illinois; Buffalo, New York; Newark, New Jersey; and Washington.

“The entire premise of the New York Times’ factually, historically flawed 1619 Project…is that America is at root, a systemically racist country to the core and irredeemable,” Cotton said, calling the project “revisionist history at its worst.”

The Arkansas senator told the Gazette that the United States shouldn’t be seen as fundamentally racist and corrupt as portrayed by the 1619 Project, but a nation founded upon noble ideals that generations of Americans struggled to fulfill.

“We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country. As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction,” Cotton said.

If Cotton’s proposed legislation passes, school districts that adopt the curriculum would lose federal professional development funds, which aim to improve teacher and principal quality. Federal funding would also be reduced to reflect any “cost associated with teaching the 1619 Project, including in planning time and teaching time.” It would not affect funds intended for low-income or special-needs students.

In response to Cotton’s bill, Hannah-Jones posted a link to the curriculum on Twitter, saying “Here’s the FREE curriculum for anyone interested. I am glad a founding principle of this republic is freedom of speech.”

The 1619 Project has become a source of controversy since its publication in 2019. The project’s critics, among whom are some of the nation’s leading historians, contended that the writers cherry-picked historical anecdotes to construct a narrative that fits their preconceived worldview centered around racial injustice.

Leslie Harris, a Northwestern University historian who helped fact-check the 1619 Project, said earlier this year that she was ignored after she “vigorously disputed” the claim that protecting the institution of slavery was the primary reason the American colonists rebelled against the British rule.

“Despite my advice, the Times published the incorrect statement about the American Revolution anyway,” Harris wrote. “I was concerned that critics would use the overstated claim to discredit the entire undertaking. So far, that’s exactly what has happened.”