By Adam Andrzejewski
Kelisa Wing, the Pentagon K-12 school diversity chief, is doubling down on her commitment to “tear down” and “uproot” the curriculum taught to the children of our military families.
Despite public scrutiny, her controversial children’s books keep proliferating in school libraries and ethical questions about her outside consulting work remain.
All the while, the government has blown past its own deadline to review her employment, Wing has retained her job, and the Pentagon continues stonewalling in the face of questions from Congress.
(Kelisa Wing has not been accused of wrongdoing by the Pentagon and the DOD refuses to answer whether or not her activities were approved.)
HIGHLY COMPENSATED POSITION
The Pentagon has invested a lot of money into Kelsa Wing’s position.
As the first ever, Chief of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion chief in the K-12 Pentagon schools (Department of Defense Education Activity), Kelsa Wing is highly compensated. The Pentagon admits to paying Wing as a GS-14 level executive officeron the federal pay scale between $126,233 and $164,102 in 2022 (source: via FOIA).
We estimate that if Wing earned $160,000 this year, then adding 30-percent for the cost of benefits means that the position costs taxpayers $210,000 annually.
For context, the base salary of the Secretary of the Department of Defense, Lloyd Austin, is $221,000.
In September 2022, Wing first came under fire for her disparaging Tweets against white people. During the firestorm, Wing responded by deleting her entire Twitter account.
Last Fall, our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com reported on Wing’s activities that Wing may or may not have run afoul of the strict DOD conflicts of interest policies.
For example, during her presentation at a DOD conference, she included a “shameless plug.” Her books – which are stocked in DOD school libraries – include controversial discussions on race with titles like What is White Privilege? and What Does It Mean to Defund Police?
Wing has since then denied that she used her government position and public platforms to promote her many side businesses. But questions remain.
Using FOIA, we kept following the money and uncovered her offer letter and job description. Other documents reveal tens of thousands of dollars paid to her as a private consultant and hundreds of Wing’s books added to DoD school libraries since October.
While the Pentagon delays, Wing has declared she will persist in the face of criticism.
Wing Will “Play Harder” Than Critics
Her first public remarks after the controversy came at a November 2022 virtual conference hosted by the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC).
Unlike earlier speaking events, Wing was not introduced with her agency or title, and did not mention her government agency, DoDEA, by name. Her 20-minute talk mostly consisted of inspirational messages to teachers eager to fight for “social justice.” Of herself Wing said:
“I dismantle disparate systems, I uproot, tear down, rip up and destroy inequitable spaces and rebuild beautiful, new justice spaces. I exude love, speak love, think love, I am love, love is my verb and my noun.”
These words echoed a 2020 talk she gave at Albany State University:
“I am anti-racist, that means I am actively taking a stand to completely tear down, uproot, rebuild, and create something new, and that's exactly what we need to do in education.”
Wing made an oblique reference to her own scandal during the AIELOC conference. Despite regrets, she said she’d “fight” harder than ever against her “opponents:”
“I sit in front of you today as not a perfect person, I have said things throughout my life that I wish I could take back, but one thing I do know is that no matter who it separates me from, or brings me to, I have always got to stand on the truth...
I'm sure if you Google my name you’ll see a whole bunch of things, but again, I'm doing this work because it matters to me....this is a work of love so why would I not expect to get in the field and the opponents are gonna be playing hard—I don’t get back in the locker and cry, I say, they’re playing hard, but what do I do?
I play harder.”
Earlier this month in the Air Force Times, Wing further defended her actions in her first media interview since the scandal broke: “I can’t advocate for equity and access and opportunity and then not be willing to advocate for myself when an injustice is happening for myself,” she added. “I have to stand up at some point, and this is the right time.”
As Wing Doubles Down, So Do the Pentagon’s K-12 Schools
Kelisa Wing has authored or contributed to 23 books, a fact she has discussed on multiple forums, including at the DoD. She gave a “shameless plug” for one of her books at a DoD conference, allegedly contravening agency rules forbiddingemployees from making sales solicitations to colleagues, and she has also gone into the classroom to read her books to children at her agency.
Most of Kelisa Wing’s books were published since 2021 as part of several social justice-oriented series geared towards children, with include titles like:
- What is White Privilege?
- What is Anti-Racism
- What Does It Mean to Defund the Police?
In these and most of her other children’s books, an author’s name appears “with” Kelisa Wing. But in her Air Force Times interview, Wing denied authoring them: “I want to go on record that I’m not the author of those books,” describing her role as a “content adviser.”
In at least one other interview given before her scandal broke, she refers to the people named alongside her on the books’ covers as “co-author,” which seems to contradict her new denial.
In October 2022 OpenTheBooks.com auditors searched the book catalogues of all 160 DoD school libraries and discovered 11 schools collectively carried 45 copies of Wing’s children’s books.
But a new audit in January 2023 revealed an extraordinary increase in those numbers: 49 schools now carry 606 copies. It’s more than a 1,200% increase, despite the public controversy!
Wing’s two most recent books were released in January 2023, so future audits will determine whether those also make it into schools.
REVIEW: each school library containing one or more of Kelisa Wing’s books in October 2022 and January 2023 here.
In the Air Force Times interview she says she does not promote her book through her DoDEA work. Wing also says she does not receive royalties from sales.
Wing’s Powerful Position Sets School Agenda, Professional Training
Wing declined to discuss her DoDEA work with Air Force Times, insisting she was only speaking in a private capacity.
However, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain her contract, salary, job description, and any conflict-of-interest paperwork she’d completed. The government produced a heavily redacted offer letter and job description. For example, the agency even redacted her name from the offer letter out of “privacy.”
However, the job description makes plain that Wing is to integrate DEI philosophy into hiring, professional development, lessons and classroom environments.
As Chief of DEI, some responsibilities include:
- “Drives efforts to improve awareness of a variety of cultural, generational, ethnic, and other differences, related to issues of student and employee engagement and participation and works to incorporate DEI into all DoDEA policies.”
- “Advising all levels of DoDEA Diversity Committees on recommending strategic direction, researching, developing, and publishing DEI policy, initiatives, staff studies, etc., on a broad range of DEI issues.”
- “Identifies and advocates diversity, equity, and inclusion professional learning and awareness opportunities.”
- Assists all levels of DoDEA management in the development of overall goals and objectives for the assigned staff functions, programs, and program segments by providing expertise and insights...”
- “Serves as the (or assigns a) Contracting Officer’s Representative for all contractor support requirements.”
Clearly, Wing has the power to influence the entire agency. In November 2022, a Fox News report highlighted divisive books in DoDEA schools, including Wing’s, and DoD spokesperson Cmdr. Schwegman said:
"The DODEA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion director does not play any role in selection or procurement of library books or support materials. This person is also not involved in curriculum selection or procurement.”
If Wing is not personally procuring library books or support materials, her job description makes plain that she’s training those who are. Librarians and administrators are likely using frameworks from her development training to make procurement decisions.
Kelisa Wing has already been shown promoting her books and books with similar themes to colleagues and children. Does it matter who ultimately puts in the order for them?
Another FOIA request for DEI training materials from DoDEA further highlights her role in driving DEI through the culture. On a presentation slide, Wing urges her colleagues to take “IMMEDIATE” steps to ensuring so-called “equitable outcomes.”
(Equitable outcomes are not the same as equality of opportunity. For example, if every student receives an “A” that’s an equitable outcome – it’s not an outcome based on merit.)
Source: via FOIA of the DODEA
More Ethics Questions: Wing’s Side Gig
On top of her government salary, Kelisa Wing runs her own DEI consulting business on the side: Promises and Possibilities, LLC. It is unknown how many schools or districts she has consulted for, but we know of at least one: New Jersey’s Cresskill School District.
We first reported Cresskill paid Wing $7,200, based on school board meeting minutes approving a contract with her in 2021. But open record requests reveal Wing received tens of thousands more: a total of $26,200. She was set to keep earning, but the school board cancelled her contract after reports of Wing’s offensive Tweets surfaced.
Wing’s contract with the district for the 2022-2023 school year was worth $32,000, including four in-person professional training for $5,500 each. She’d received $6,500 before the contract was cancelled.
Proposed $32,000 budget for Kelisa Wing’s DEI consulting services at Cresskill School District for the 2022-2023 school year.
Despite a full-time job based in Virginia, Wing often spent time during the work week conducting virtual or in-person training sessions for Cresskill staff.
This table shows known dates Wing consulted through Promises & Possibilities, the services provided, their prices, and whether they were delivered in person (if known):
Graphic: Information provided via open records requests to the Cresskill School District in New Jersey
It is not yet known whether these trainings happened during work hours—but the Cresskill Board of Education calendar indicates at least some of the professional learning for staff occurred during the workday:
Screenshot from Cresskill Board of Education calendar of events showing one of the days Kelisa Wing was paid to give professional learning presentations.
OpenTheBooks.com asked DoDEA for Kelisa Wing’s timecards to see if she had taken days off her federal job to conduct these activities. DoDEA refused to release these to us, citing “privacy.” (We file this request with many schools across America and are never rejected on the request.)
Kelisa Wing told Air Force Times: “I disclose to my employer my private activities as required to do so and have always done.”
Links to the Cresskill contracts can be viewed here:
School year 2020-2021
School year 2021-2022 part 1
School year 2021-2022 part 2
School year 2022-2023
In September of last year DoDEA opened an investigation into Kelisa Wing’s activities at the agency, telling Fox News they would send the Under Secretary of Personnel and Readiness, Gil Cisneros, a final report after 30 days.
Those 30 days passed months ago, but there is still no word from the administration about her ongoing or future employment; indeed, since then we have only heard from Wing herself that she intends to “play harder,” and we’ve found even more of her books in DoDEA libraries.
Reviewing only one school district in New Jersey illustrates that questions remain over how Wing splits and reports her time between consulting and government work.
If DoDEA does plan to stand by Kelisa Wing and keep her as Chief DEI Officer, the American people deserve to know why. If they support her doubling down in her efforts to “completely tear down, uproot, rebuild, and create something new" in education, they should have no problem defending it to the public.
If DoDEA keeps obfuscating, Congress should hold hearing on agency activities.
DoDEA is charged with educating nearly 70,000 children of servicemembers and other military-related personnel, many of whom have no other education choices when stationed overseas.
We call for complete transparency so servicemembers can understand what their children are being taught and taxpayers can decide if their money is well spent.
NOTE: We reached out to Kelisa Wing and DoDEA to request comment and did not hear back by our publishing deadline. If they respond, we will update the piece as soon as possible.
FOX News Digital | 'Woke' Defense Department DEI education official's books now in one third of Pentagon schools: Gov't watchdog | March 2, 2023
OpenTheBooks.Substack | “Agitate, Agitate, Agitate”— Military's New Diversity Chief Hawks Books, Advocates “Revolution” In K-12 Schools | October 10, 2022
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