Moreso than perhaps any other state, California has aggressively embraced the "woke" line of thinking. Before schools decided to phase out "D" and "F" grades, LA County hired a bona fide social justice warrior to be its top public health official during the COVID pandemic.
And now, the California Department of Education is facing a modest backlash over the hiring of a deputy superintendent of equity by the state's Department of Education. The employee is one of the department's highest paid. And as it turns out, he also doesn't live, or work, in the Golden State.
California's deputy superintendent for equity, Daniel Lee, is a psychologist, life coach and self-help author, who - according to Politico - owns a Pennsylvania-based psychology firm and is also the president of the New Jersey Psychological Association’s executive board.
And since July of last year, he has also been serving as a deputy superintendent for the California Department of Education, a role dedicated to the success of children of color. The role was originally supported by a foundation grant, but it's now funded by state taxpayers.
Per Politico, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was instrumental in hiring Lee. Thurmond has known Lee for more than two decades, since they were social workers in Philadelphia, and he included Lee in his wedding party.
The Education Department's nonprofit affiliate initially hired Lee without publicly posting the job that now pays up to $179,832, and Lee's 18-page resume shows no prior experience in California or relationships with school districts in the state. Since then, Lee has become head of the state agency’s equity branch, which Thurmond created in August shortly after Lee’s hiring.
According to local records, Lee, 51, voted in Philadelphia - where he owns a home - as recently as November.
California's education and taxpayer advocates have recently questioned why the state hired someone living across the country, who clearly has other duties to address, to be responsible for confronting persistent racial and gender-based inequities in the nation's largest school population.
What's more, the hiring appears to flout California policy, which allows few exceptions for a state employee to live elsewhere.
One (presumably well-meaning) critic even asked Politico why the state couldn't find any well-suited candidates for the position who lived in-state (or maybe even in the same time zone?).
"There are a number of people in California very well qualified in our universities and educational institutions who could do this work," said Carl Pinkston, director of the Black Parallel School Board in Sacramento, which is suing the state over disciplinary practices for students of color.
"Irrespective of who it is, to have someone from out of state who is not familiar with California’s dynamics and politics and challenges come in and attempt to do this work only furthers the fundamental problem, which is that the California Department of Education fails to adequately monitor schools for inequities and push for enforcement."
Confronted with the criticism, Thurmond defended Lee's hiring and, amusingly, insisted that "...I wanted to hire [Lee] for a long time but he lived out of state. The pandemic opened the door for me to hire someone who is top of his class."
The state schools chief said he knew of "no specific residency requirements" for state workers. When asked if others were interviewed for the equity job besides Lee, Thurmond said, "I can't recall." Thurmond attended Temple University in Philadelphia at the same time as Lee in the 1990s but said they did not know each other until they became social workers.
"The fact that we have known each other for 30 years...if he's doing great quality work, what difference does it make how long we've known each other?" Thurmond said in an interview Friday.
Lee answered the door last month at his Philadelphia business address in a house along a residential street but declined to speak to POLITICO and did not return phone calls. A Nexis search shows no past or current addresses in California.
Republicans have seized on the question of Lee's residence to ask many of these questions.
California is illegally paying six figures to a “Superintendent of Equity" who lives and works as a life coach in Philadelphia. He was in the wedding of our state schools chief who hired him. pic.twitter.com/euhRBmJMRk— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) December 14, 2021
According to California's Department of Education, Lee’s role is the first of its kind, and is expected to "bring cohesion in all of the California Department of Education, equity work," focused on counseling, social emotional learning "and other whole child programs," according to the Department of Education's website.