87th LegislatureEducationState HouseState SenateCritical Race Theory Ban in Classrooms Approved by Senate Committee, Stripped of Democrat Changes

The committee passed a version without its amendments, most of which were Democratic additions to broaden the pedagogy of America's founding.
May 19, 2021
When state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) introduced his bill to stem the teaching of critical race theory in Texas classrooms, he accepted almost two dozen amendments by Democrats that heaped a host of figures and documents onto the bill’s list of required reading to understand the nation’s founding.

After the bill passed the state House and then jumped to the Senate, the State Affairs Committee stripped these amendments away.

On Monday, Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) introduced a committee substitute — a changed version of a bill — nearly identical to Toth’s original version, House Bill (HB) 3979. In fact, the text of the committee substitute is a carbon copy of Toth’s Senate companion bill, carried by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), which the Senate already passed.

While committee substitutes are a common stage in the life of bills, this bill’s committee substitute is notable for confirming a suspicion of some Democrats in the House, who asked Toth if the Senate would slough away their amendments. Toth said he bore no responsibility for the Senate’s actions. Ultimately, his acceptance of the amendments gained no Democratic support in the final House vote on the bill.

It did find one Democratic supporter in the Senate State Affairs Committee: Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville).

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“My heroes of the past have been all colors. White, black, brown,” Lucio said. “I truly hope to see when we are one American family.”

The bill passed the State Affairs Committee with a 6 to 1 vote, the single nay coming from Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson).

The amendments that Democratic members added in the House included figures from Cesar Chavez to local indigenous tribes in the nation’s founding history. They also traded Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America for other documents to count as foundational American writings, including the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As some critics noted in the State Affairs Committee hearing, the bill does not mention critical race theory explicitly. Rather, one part of the bill forbids teachers from pushing certain tenets of critical theory as it has been distilled and popularized. Examples include the notion that meritocracy is racist or prejudiced, or that certain racial groups bear collective guilt or responsibility.

Here are the eight concepts that teachers, administrators, and other school employees would not be able to require or make part of a course:

  • one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
  • an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
  • an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race or sex;
  • members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex;
  • an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by the individual’s race or sex;
  • an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
  • an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex; or
  • meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.

The bill proposes similar but slimmer requirements for teacher training: no school employee may be “required to engage in training, orientation, or therapy that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or blame on the basis of race or sex.”

Other parts of the bill require an understanding of the nation’s founding as based on the founding documents, forbid administrators from compelling teachers to discuss hot-button controversies, and mandate that teachers who do hold discussions “strive to explore those topics from diverse and contending perspectives.”

It also forbids schools and teachers from giving credit to students for activism, a preemptive ban on the “action civics” approach to government education that some other states have employed.

Finally, it bars schools from accepting private funding for developing a curriculum or teacher training — a line aimed at the New York Times’ 1619 project, Toth has said.

The bill has encountered strong opposition from teachers’ unions and traditional public school advocacy groups like the nonprofit Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), whose National Director of Policy Morgan Craven testified against it in the State Affairs hearing.

Specifically, Craven objected to rules that she felt would quash teachers’ speech rights and prevent them from teaching important moral lessons.

“Requiring a teacher… to not give deference to any one side is dangerous,” Craven said, referencing topics like the January 6 capital riot which she said required condemnation rather than discussion.

Laura Kravitz of the Texas State Teachers Association took issue with the forbidden concepts as well as the proposed rules on teacher training. Kravitz read aloud some comments that she says teachers have sent her.

“One educator told me, ‘How do they expect us to teach?’ ‘With what they’re saying, we will not know how to teach, and it will cause us to need much more professional development than ever before,’” Kravitz said.

“‘Teaching in this way is not something we know how to do at all.’”

Critical theory widely informs diversity programs in corporate environments, and one testifier said that the bill will fail to help students expect such environments when they enter the workforce.

“It is very common in today’s workplace to have diversity and equity initiatives… And many of the programs and policies in districts across the state are aimed at addressing very real instances of racism that have been experienced by students and families in those places,” said Jonathan Feinstein, state director for The Education Trust, a nonprofit for racial equity in education.

Feinstein, who said he represented a number of chambers of commerce, businesses, and school districts who oppose the bill, also opposed the civics limitations.

“A healthy public education system has a responsibility to ensure that students are prepared to participate in our democracy. This bill prevents students from really developing the valuable knowledge, skills, and experience that they need to really contribute to the Texas workforce.”

Diversity initiatives are fairly commonplace in Texas school districts, often but not always affecting teachers more than student learning. These initiatives raised eyebrows — and fundraising numbers — in recent school board elections from Southlake to Austin, driving voter turnout and heating up normally cool local races.

If the full Senate passes HB 3979, which is expected since it has already passed Creighton’s identical version, then members of each chamber will meet in conference committee to hash out a complete version of the bill before sending it to the governor’s desk.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.