The 2022 session of the Indiana General Assembly produced plenty of bad news, but at least there’s this: When it comes to education, it could have been worse. Much worse.
Republican legislators failed in their all-out effort to ban the teaching of what they misleadingly call “critical race theory” in schools. They also fell short in their efforts to politicize school board elections, encourage book-banning, and make public schools share funding with charter schools.
Their one truly harmful action regarding schools was the approval of House Bill 1041, which prohibits transgender girls from playing girls’ sports. This cruel legislation was designed for one purpose only: to toss a bone to the GOP’s right wing. Maybe – hopefully — Gov. Eric Holcomb will veto it.
Other than that, Republicans wasted people’s time and energy with lots of sound and fury about education, but it ultimately signified almost nothing.
House Bill 1134, which would have prohibited teaching “divisive concepts” supposedly deriving from critical race theory, was approved by the House but watered down and then abandoned by the Senate. Legislative leaders talked about reviving parts of the bill but didn’t manage to do so.
It’s a bit of a mystery why anti-CRT bills failed in Indiana when they were being approved in other conservative, Republican-controlled states. They weren’t helped when the author of one of the bills said teachers should be impartial when teaching about Nazism, prompting mockery on late-night TV.
The effort to tie the hands of teachers also united Indiana’s often fractious education stakeholders. Teachers’ unions, administrators, school boards and other education groups came out against the bills. So did civil rights groups, parent organizations and supporters of charter schools.
Another key Republican priority was to make Indiana the fourth state where school boards are elected on a politically partisan basis. That effort went nowhere. Legislators settled on requiring school boards to allow public comment at their meetings, a reaction to the Carmel Clay board’s temporary shutdown of comment after patrons got rowdy over masks and curriculum.
The House passed HB 1072, requiring school districts to share revenue from property-tax funding referendums with charter schools, on a close, 52-39 vote. But the Senate didn’t give the bill a hearing. The idea may be back in 2023, but it’s dead for now.
Both the House and Senate seemed determined to pass some version of SB 17, which would have made it harder for schools and libraries to defend themselves against accusations that they provided material harmful to minors. Critics said the bill would encourage book-banning and self-censorship by teachers and librarians. The session ended before legislators could find a suitable home for the language.
On the positive side, lawmakers approved HB 1093, including language that could crack down on programs like Tech Trep Academy, which provides questionable incentives for families to enroll their children in the online program. Senators looked ready to amend the bill to weaken the restriction – but they didn’t, thanks to testimony by Zionsville homeschool parents Kylene and Brian Varner.
Why did so many anti-education measures fall short when Republicans, who hold supermajorities in the House and Senate, seemed determined to pass them? One possibility is that they overreached. Buoyed by Glenn Youngkin’s win in the 2021 Virginia governor’s election, they bet that driving a wedge between parents and teachers would fire up the base for the 2022 Indiana elections.
The base got fired up, but it turned out to be small, extreme and fickle, flitting from one bogus issue to the next. Hoosiers tend to be conservative but not radical, and schools are central to most Indiana communities. Legislators would do well to remember that when the 2023 session rolls around.