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Wisconsin Assembly passes ban on teaching critical race theory

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Teaching public school students and training employees about concepts such as systemic racism and implicit bias would be banned under legislation Republicans passed in the state Assembly Tuesday.

GOP lawmakers also approved a bill, 61-37, that would create a statewide civics curriculum that all Wisconsin public and private schools would have to follow. The measure would require all public school students to take at least a half credit in civics education in order to graduate.

Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, D-Milwaukee, joined Republicans in favor of the civics bill.

Video of dad, daughter speaking out against critical race theory goes viral

The first measure, which would prohibit teaching concepts under the rubric of “critical race theory,” began circulating in the state Legislature this summer amid a nationwide push by conservatives to police how teachers talk about race in the classroom. The theory asserts that racism is ingrained in the nation’s social structures and policies.

The bill, which passed the Assembly on a 60-38 party-line vote, is all but certain to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, a former state schools superintendent. The bill has yet to be approved by the Senate.

Opponents have criticized the measure as an attempt to strip local control from school districts and say it misinterprets the concept of critical race theory, which focuses on social and racial inequality in U.S. law and institutions.

Rep. LaKeshia Myers, D-Milwaukee, characterized the measure on Tuesday as a way to sow division similar to former President Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” a campaign that used fear of crime and lawlessness to tap into white Southern voters’ anxiety over racial integration and equality without using overtly racist language.

“AB 411 and bills like it are a poor attempt at reverse psychology to sow seeds of division and hate by playing on the fears of a shrinking white majority,” Myers said.

Bill co-author Rep. Chuck Wichgers, R-Muskego, said the bill follows concerns raised by parents over materials being taught to their children in primary and secondary schools. A similar GOP-authored bill would prohibit the same concepts from being taught in universities and technical colleges.

The bills would ban seven concepts from the classroom, including that one race or sex is superior to another; a person is inherently racist by virtue of his or her race or sex; a person’s moral character is necessarily determined by race or sex; and systems based on meritocracy are racist or sexist or designed to oppress people of another race. An amendment to the bill removed from the legislation one additional concept — that a person should feel guilty for past acts committed by people of his or her race or sex.

In testimony before an Assembly committee last month, Wichgers said the bill would ban the teaching of concepts including “Social Emotional Learning,” “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” culturally responsive teaching, anti-racism, conscious and unconscious bias, culturally responsive practices, diversity training, equity, microaggressions, multiculturalism, patriarchy, restorative justice, social justice, systemic racism, white privilege, white supremacy and “woke,” among others.

Funding affected

Under the bill, the Department of Public Instruction would be required to withhold 10% of a school’s state aid if the department determines that the school district or charter school taught race or sex stereotyping or required prohibited employee training.

It’s not clear to what extent the theory, which has been explored mostly in academic journals, actually informs K-12 education; no school in Wisconsin is known to be teaching it, though many of the concepts Wichgers identified are common themes in Madison and other school districts. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and other Republicans assert the concept only serves to further racial and sexual stereotypes.

“The idea that we are going to say that one race is superior, that one religion is better than the other, that one sex has certain characteristics that make it better than the other, that is preposterous, it should never happen,” Vos told reporters Tuesday. “For people who went to civics and understand what America stands for, we should be a colorblind society that judges everybody based on the content of their character — as somebody much more eloquent than me said — than on the color of their skin.”

Other action

  • Another bill that passed the Assembly 60-38 would ban similar concepts from being taught in trainings to employees of local and state government. It still needs Senate approval.
  • Another education-related measure would require the state superintendent to include cursive writing in the English Language Arts model academic standards. Both the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and the School Administrators Alliance, which represent school boards and superintendents across the state, opposed the bill. It passed the Assembly 59-39 and now heads to the Senate.
  • Republicans also passed a bill that would direct $100 million in federal COVID-19 funds on mental health programs in schools.

The GOP-authored bill would require state agencies to report each department’s use of any federal stimulus funds received throughout the pandemic. However, the inclusion of language dictating how the governor uses American Rescue Plan Act funds could mean the bill is likely heading to a veto by Evers, who has already struck down two similar measures related to his use of stimulus funds.

In a response to the proposed bill, the Department of Public Instruction said additional funding for mental health programs would be welcome, but the proposal could have been funded using state dollars in the previous budget session, which would have provided a stable funding source rather than through one-time federal funds.

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