School board elections are the quintessential local elections. In most states, including Indiana, they are nonpartisan. Voters make their choices based on the pros and cons of candidates, not parties. Issues matter, but candidates with strong networks of friends and supporters are likely to do well.
That makes it hard to draw conclusions from the school board elections that took place across the state last week. But it appears that conservative culture warriors didn’t do as well as they had hoped.
In some school districts, candidates vowed to take on “critical race theory” and “wokeness” in the schools. Those folks won and now have a majority in Hamilton Southeastern, an affluent suburban district north of Indianapolis where white parents protested the hiring of the district’s first Black superintendent last year. In the New Albany-Floyd County district, two candidates backed by Liberty Defense, a PAC that supports Republicans, were among four winners.
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.
This is the season of the zombie bills, the bad bills that refuse to die. You think you’ve driven a stake through their heart, but they rise and keep coming. Or so it seems.
For example, House Bill 1134, Indiana Republicans’ response to the phony outrage over schools teaching “critical race theory,” faced overwhelming public opposition. It was supposedly dead after the Senate failed to approve it by a deadline. Then it wasn’t: Legislative leaders said they would revive parts of the bill. Then it was dead again when they couldn’t agree on how to do that. But will it stay dead?
We won’t know until the session is adjourned.
As approved by the House, HB 1134 would have banned teaching about certain “divisive concepts,” required teachers to post lesson plans online, let parents sue over supposed violations, and so on. A Senate committee removed some of the worst provisions; but the Senate Republican caucus, after an apparently contentious closed-door meeting, let the bill die.
Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston’s duties as a state legislator meshed just fine with his responsibilities as an official of the College Board for nearly 10 years.
Then something changed. Huston’s $460,738 job with the testing organization fell victim to the right’s contrived war against so-called critical race theory.
The speaker stepped down from his position as senior vice president of the College Board two weeks ago after questions were raised about his support for House Bill 1134. As approved by the House, it would have restricted teaching about “divisive concepts” regarding race, sex and religion and required teachers to post lesson plans online so parents could opt out.
As speaker, Huston typically votes on bills only to break a tie or to signal that the measure is a priority for House Republicans. He voted for HB 1134, which passed, 60-37.
The legislation is part of a national campaign, playing out in state legislatures and elections, aimed at fighting “diversity, equity and inclusion” programs and curricula in school. And it’s in direct opposition to the culture of diversity and inclusion the College Board claims to favor.
I’m all for giving credit where credit is due, and some credit is due today to Indiana Senate Republicans. They’ve offered an amendment to House Bill 1134 that would make a truly bad bill significantly less bad.
Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, unveiled the amendment Tuesday afternoon. It’s expected to be considered when the Senate Education and Workforce Development meets at 1:30 p.m. today.
As approved by the House, HB 1134 would require teachers to post learning materials and lesson plans online for parents and others to review, and it would restrict teaching about “divisive concepts” related to race, gender and other topics.
UPDATE: Senate Republicans are offering an amendment to HB 1134, which will be discussed in the committee meeting Wednesday. Some details are here.
House Bill 1134 was supposed to divide us. It was designed to pit parents against teachers, white people against people of color, city folks against Indiana’s rural population. It looks like it may be having the opposite effect.
We’re seeing strong and unified opposition to the bill, which would restrict what teachers can say about “divisive concepts” like race and force them to post lessons online so parents can opt out.
Opposition is coming from teachers’ organizations across the state, with the Indiana State Teachers Association calling on members to pack the Statehouse this week to stop HB 1134.
It’s coming from individual teachers, who warn that the bill could lead to a mass exodus of educators, who simply can’t do their job well under the restrictions it would impose.
A political action committee that favors more funding for charter schools gave $50,000 in December 2021 to the Indiana House Republican Campaign Committee and one of its favored candidates.
Weeks later, House Republicans introduced and began supporting legislation to require public school districts to share funding from property-tax referendums with charter schools.
Is there a connection? Hoosier Republicans have long been ideologically predisposed to school choice in all its forms. They argue state education tax dollars should “follow the child,” whether parents send the child to a public, charter or private school or a for-profit tutoring service.
Update: The House approved HB 1134 Jan. 26 by a vote of 60-37, sending it to the Senate. The previous day, the House amended the bill to remove references to higher education. Restrictions on K-12 schools and teachers remain.
The supposed denazification of Indiana House Bill 1134 didn’t make it better. It’s still an ill-advised bill that will tie the hands of teachers and prevent students from learning American history in all its complexity.
That was apparently too much for Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, who put the kibosh on the bill. But HB 1134 is still alive. Its author, Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, has said he will bring it to the House floor for second reading and amendments, possibly today.
The novelist William Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Someone should remind Indiana legislators, who are trying to nail down what students can learn about history.
They seem to think history and the past are a set of indisputable facts, frozen in amber. Yes, historical facts exist, but our understanding of them and our relationship with them is always changing.
“No historian will stray from the facts,” Indiana University historian Eric Sandweiss told me. “And yet every history student and scholar know they are building on the facts. They are finding new facts that haven’t been found before, and they are seeing them and connecting them in new ways.”
Legislation aimed at preventing students – including high school and college students – from being exposed to certain ideas about race and American history will be discussed this week at the Statehouse.
The first thing to know about these bills is that they aren’t original or unique to Indiana. They are part of a coordinated national campaign against so-called critical race theory, with similar versions having been filed or passed in dozens of states. The language is copied from an executive order by former President Donald Trump and from “model bills” promulgated by right-wing advocacy groups.
The second thing to know is that they are, at best, a solution in search of a problem. The folks pushing them seem to think Hoosier teachers are woke activists pushing a leftist agenda centered on identity politics. They aren’t. Teachers are like everyone else: some are liberal, some are conservative – some are very conservative – and many don’t care about politics.