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NH Education

PragerU isn’t subject to law that defines ‘university,’ says N.H. attorney general

The State Board of Education is expected to resume its review this week of a controversial proposal to grant academic credit for one PragerU course

A screenshot from the PragerU financial literacy video, "Cash Course."Screenshot via YouTube

After taking a closer look at a state law that limits the use of the word “university” in corporate names, the New Hampshire attorney general’s office announced Monday that it has decided not to take any action against the Prager University Foundation, commonly called PragerU.

The decision comes as education officials are expected to resume their consideration this week of a controversial proposal to grant academic credit to high schoolers who opt to complete PragerU’s free online financial literacy course.

While some opponents have raised concerns about the adequacy of the financial literacy course in particular, most have objected more broadly to the right-wing nonprofit’s clear political mission, including its expressed desire to produce kid-oriented “edutainment” content that combats so-called “woke agendas” in the classroom.

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The scope of the proposal under consideration in New Hampshire focuses exclusively on PragerU’s “Cash Course” financial literacy lessons, but critics have pointed to other videos in the PragerU Kids library, including lessons on gender, race, climate change, and slavery, as evidence that the organization shouldn’t be given even a foothold of credibility in the state’s education system.

Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, the top elected Democrat in state government, asked the attorney general last week to investigate whether PragerU can operate lawfully in light of the law that limits a corporation’s ability to call itself a “college” or “university.” After reviewing the attorney general’s response, Warmington said late Monday that she’s disappointed with his “failure to protect the public” from PragerU’s “clearly misleading name.”

“PragerU’s radical content has no place in our public school curriculum, and I continue to urge the State Board of Education to reject it,” Warmington said.

State Board of Education chair Drew Cline said he wasn’t “the least bit” surprised by the attorney general’s conclusion, since PragerU has made abundantly clear that it’s not an accredited university.

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“They’re clearly not trying to commit fraud,” he said.

Cline said the PragerU proposal is on the agenda for the board’s meeting on Thursday, but he doesn’t know yet how he and the other members will vote. They’re still reviewing additional information that PragerU provided in response to their questions last month, including information about the website that New Hampshire students would see when they complete the financial literacy course and the assessment they would take at the end, he said.

Cline said an organized political campaign has been working to discredit PragerU and New Hampshire’s Learn Everywhere program by blurring the line between PragerU’s financial literacy course content and the other material in its library.

Education commissioner Frank Edelblut, whose seven children were homeschooled; has recommended that the board approve the proposal.

New Hampshire Board of Education President Drew Cline, left, and New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut discusses the PragerU course during a meeting of the state Board of Education in Concord, N.H., on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023.Steven Porter

The office of Attorney General John M. Formella explained its rationale in a statement Monday. The office concluded that the relevant statute doesn’t require out-of-state entities to incorporate in New Hampshire just because they have a website that’s accessible in New Hampshire.

“In any event, the statute has clearly not been applied in such a manner to similarly situated entities in the past and thus it would not be in the interest of justice to take action against PragerU for failing to incorporate under the provisions of Chapter 292:8 given its present activities,” the office said.

What’s more, the attorney general’s office said, PragerU’s activities in New Hampshire don’t even “invoke the consumer protection rationale” on which the relevant law is based, the office said. PragerU makes clear that it’s not an accredited university, there’s no indication that PragerU charges for its services, and it doesn’t offer degrees — so there’s no real concern, authorities concluded, that consumers might be duped by predatory tactics from a “fake” university.

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PragerU “has clearly disclaimed being an accredited university,” and its ability to offer K-12 educational services in New Hampshire is regulated by the State Board of Education, the office said.

PragerU backlash in New Hampshire schools
WATCH: New Hampshire reporter Steven Porter explains the controversy behind a New Hampshire education official recommending a PragerU course in high schools.

Steven Porter can be reached at steven.porter@globe.com. Follow him @reporterporter.