El Paso County Commissioner Carrie Geitner defended her efforts to deny grant funding to nonprofit Peak Education, a mentoring and college access organization, during an appearance on the Richard Randall show last week.

“This is block grant funding that comes from the federal government that we are charged with distributing,” explained Geitner. “I’m not a big fan of government taking tax dollars and distributing them to nonprofits in general.”

During an April 30 El Paso Board of County Commissioners meeting, commissioners doled out $475,000 in Community Services Block Grants (CSBG), funds designated to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty in communities. 

“There is a requirement from the federal government that these applications go to an advisory board, and the advisory board makes a recommendation to the county commissioners,” said Geitner. “Ultimately, we have the final say in where those funds go and they’re specifically to alleviate poverty. What happened is the advisory board had made a recommendation, based on people who had applied for this funding.” 

The advisory board selected 10 applicants, including Peak Education, for CSBG funding. “I like to dig into things,” Geitner told Randall. “I don’t just take things on face value. It’s one of the things that is very important to me is to look at where every dollar is going.”

Initial funding recommendations.

During the April 30 BOCC meeting, Geitner took issue with a statement on Peak Education’s website regarding the June 2023 Supreme Court decision to end affirmative action in higher education, preventing colleges from considering race as one of many factors in the admissions process.

“At Peak Education, we are dedicated to closing opportunity gaps within education, we believe that every student deserves the opportunity to have ownership of their educational journey,” read the statement on Peak Education’s website. “Despite today’s unfortunate decision from the Supreme Court regarding ending the use of race in college admission, we will continue our work to support scholars and help them overcome barriers that may impede them from reaching their full potential. We will continue to invest in our scholars, providing support, mentorship and counseling so that each of our scholars can reach their full potential. We urge policymakers and educational leaders to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision by investing in programs that support underrepresented students and continue to promote diversity in higher education. To our students, we understand the concerns raised by the Supreme Court’s decision. Despite this, we want to reassure you of our unwavering commitment to your success. We are here to aid you with resources, guidance and a network of support. Together, we’ll work towards a future where every student has equal opportunities to thrive.” 

According to Geitner, Peak Education’s statement is racist. “It’s identity politics,” she told Randall. “It is making your race — the color of your skin — the most important thing about you as a person, and I disagree with that fundamentally. This is really in line with that same, kind of idea. I think it’s poison to our society. I think it creates all kinds of social problems, and I think we’re actually seeing that on college campuses playing out right now. We’re seeing the riots. We’re seeing all of these crazy things, a lot of which has been attributed, to this extreme, DEI-type, mentality that has been pervasive on college campuses.”

Peak Education provides services to students throughout Colorado Springs, but primarily to students in Harrison School District 2, a majority-minority school district where many schools receive Title I funding to support low-income students. Despite socioeconomic disadvantages, Harrison School District 2 has seen consistent annual performance improvements while neighboring districts in Colorado Springs struggle to ensure special populations, such as English language learners and special education students, are adequately supported.

During the April 30 BOCC meeting, Geitner’s ideological opposition to Peak Education’s statement led the board to reduce the amount of funding from the recommended $35,000 to $20,000, which Peak Education CEO Carlos Jimenez declined because it would not have been enough to justify resources the nonprofit would have had to dedicate to the grant’s reporting requirements.

Geitner’s statements echo those of conservative thought-leader Chris Rufo, who has taken credit for the critical race theory panic and spoke at CU Boulder in January about the danger of DEI programs. This is not the first time Geitner has blocked grant funding to a nonprofit due to ideological opposition. Last summer Geitner led the BOCC to deny a $20,750 Community Development Block Grant to The PLACE, a nonprofit that helps youth exit homelessness, over concerns related to abortion and parents’ rights.

During the April 30 BOCC meeting, Geitner also grilled Catholic Charities about human trafficking. The 113-year-old faith-based nonprofit has become the target of right-wing pundits conspiracy theorists through a smear campaign rooted in opposition to offering aid to immigrants, which critics frame as incentivizing illegal immigration, while sometimes accuse faith groups of breaking the law or working with drug cartels.