Wisconsin Senate Republicans advance school culture war bill

Republicans on Wisconsin’s Senate Education Committee introduced a bill Monday that would ban teaching certain topics about race and the harms of racism in schools, setting the bill up for a potential vote in the Senate at its back in January.

Advancing the bill to ban the teaching of so-called critical race theory in schools is part of a national effort that Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country have turned into a campaign issue .

Critical race theory — a graduate-level framework that states that American institutions are shaped by racism — has been a key issue in an attempted recall by several members of the Mequon-Thiensville school board. The recall attempt drew donations and attention from high-profile Republicans across the state, including gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch.

Even though the recall attempt failed, Wisconsin Republicans say they will continue to focus on education.

“The so-called blue state of Virginia is electing a Republican governor who ran on education,” former Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt said. tweeted after Republican Glenn Youngkin, who ran on a platform that included opposition to critical race theory in schools, was elected earlier this month. “That’s a winning question for 22 Republicans. ‘Education’ [Gov. Tony Evers] should press the panic button.

Senate Bill 411 has been approved and recommended for competition with the Assembly’s version in a series of 4-3 party-line votes by the Education Committee on Monday. The stated purpose of the bill is to prevent students from being taught “that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex and that an individual, by virtue of his race or of his sex, bears the responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals”. of the same race or sex.

Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in testimony about the bill that it would ban the use of words and topics such as “critical self-reflection”, “marginalized communities” and “racial prejudice”.

The bill includes a provision that requires the state superintendent of schools to withhold 10 percent of a district’s public funding when a teacher is found to have violated the law. It also includes a requirement that districts post their entire schedule online.

Democrats countered by saying critical race theory is not taught in schools, but limiting what can be taught will have a chilling effect on teaching US history in classrooms, especially on topics such as slavery and the civil rights movement.

“There were several educators, [who] came to testify who talked about the fact that they weren’t teaching anything close to critical race theory,” Rep. LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee), a former teacher, said when the bill passed. by the Assembly in September. “They explained that if this passed they would feel uncomfortable because you would be walking a tightrope and not knowing what to say that could possibly get you in trouble and take money away from your district, which is problematic.”

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) says he doesn’t think the emphasis on critical race theory in Wisconsin schools will help Republicans win elections and end up making lawmakers look bad. voted for the bill.

“This is part of a nationwide effort that is only in the final iteration to keep the lost cause going,” said Larson, who sits on the education committee and voted against passing the bill. “[It’s] trying to cover up some of the most ingrained racist history in our country. The story will find its way and ironically those who try to cover up the story are not well liked by those who study it in the future.

The attempt to outlaw critical race theory isn’t the only culture war issue Wisconsin Republicans are focusing on in schools. On Sunday, an attorney from the right-wing law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty appeared on the WISN show “In the frontto address a lawsuit filed against the Kettle Moraine School District over a student’s ability to be referred to by a preferred gender identity at school without parental permission.

The lawsuit comes from an unidentified 12-year-old who identified as transgender and asked teachers to change the pronouns they used to identify the student.

WILL is suing the district, saying parents should be in control of this decision. Luke Berg, WILL’s attorney, said the district’s decision to allow students to express their true gender identity is unconstitutional.

“Schools should defer to parents for important decisions about their children,” Berg said. “They normally do, but they created this one exception for gender identity transitions, and in our view, that’s unconstitutional. They have to defer to the parents about this major decision. So the The ultimate goal is for a court to say that parents have the constitutional right to make that decision and that schools must defer to those decisions.

Earlier this year, Wisconsin and Republican states across the country passed laws banning transgender women and girls from participating in youth, high school and college sports. The Wisconsin bills were vetoed by Evers.

Larson says he thinks education is a major problem in Wisconsin, but not for the same reasons Republicans insist when trying to legislate how racism is taught or who can play women’s basketball. .

“I think if anyone votes on education, the first thing they’re going to worry about is that our schools are criminally underfunded and the money is being used to give huge tax breaks to companies that don’t don’t need it or just sit on it,” he says. “I think it’s going to backfire as much as they think they have something.”

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Martha K. Merrill