Surveys go heavy on school issues

Look for Indiana legislators to spend their 2022 session trying to mandate partisan school board elections and restrict political discussions in the classroom. They may also want to ban transgender athletes from competing in school sports and demand disclosure of teachers’ lesson plans.

That’s my conclusion from reviewing issues surveys posted online by House Republicans. While the surveys are ostensibly to get constituent input, they also let lawmakers field-test ideas for legislation.

Statehouse
Indiana Statehouse

About half of the 71 House Republicans have posted their surveys. Using identical, canned language, they ask about vaccine mandates, tax cuts and other topics, but K-12 education seems to dominate. For example, a large majority ask if constituents would support “greater election transparency” by requiring school board candidates to declare their political party affiliation.

We’ve known this was coming. It’s a bad idea, but conservatives are enthralled with the politics, never mind the policy. Indiana is one of 43 states where school board elections are nonpartisan; in only three states do candidates run as Republicans or Democrats. As the Indiana School Boards Association says, partisan elections will bring divisiveness. There’s no Democratic or Republican way to set school policy.

Another popular survey question: “Would you support legislation that would restrict educators from advancing their political beliefs in the classroom and ensure ideological neutrality in Hoosier schools?” How would this work, exactly? Will we ask students to rat out their teachers for raising questions they (or their parents) don’t like? What counts as a political belief these days? That slavery was a cause of the Civil War? That Jim Crow segregation had a long-lasting impact? That Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election? Those are facts, but some people would decry them as “beliefs.”

Republicans seem to think teachers are trying to turn innocent kids into Democrats. Or socialists. Anyone who believes this can’t have spent time in an Indiana school or met a real, live teacher. Hoosier teachers are like everyone else: Some are liberal, some are conservative, and many pay little attention to politics. Most are professional enough to not let their views interfere with their work.

The same goes for a survey question about whether the state should force schools to “post online any instructional materials used in the classroom so parents can easily access the content being discussed.” Yes, schools should be transparent, but requiring public sharing of any classroom materials is overkill.

Another frequently asked question asks whether, “to promote fairness,” the state should make participation in school sports contingent on a student’s “biological sex.” Other than playing to the anti-trans peanut gallery, it’s not at all clear why the legislature needs to get involved.

In fact, nearly all the education issues raised in the surveys are solutions in search of a problem. Schools and teachers should be focused on making sure students learn the skills and knowledge they need, a hard enough challenge with the COVID-19 pandemic. If politicians interfere by stoking culture-war issues, it’s students who will suffer.

Note: Even if these surveys aren’t conducted in good faith, it’s worthwhile to respond. Click on your legislator’s profile and look for a “take my survey” link; or respond to the questionnaire that comes in the mail. Better yet, send a concise, thoughtful letter about the education issues they should address.

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