Conservatives in Georgia are focusing on education ahead of the state’s next legislative session, which is set to begin on Monday.
The top issues seem to be regulation of what teachers can say about race and censoring any online or library material that might be considered “obscene.” Other restrictions may include sex education and transgender women playing sports.
One issue many Republicans have been vocal about is “critical race theory”—a term that refers to how racism has shaped American policies and social structures. However, it has recently become more of a buzzword for anything to do with teaching about race or diversity.
Cole Muzio, president of the conservative lobbying group Frontline Policy Council, said that his group does not subscribe to the idea that “all history is the history of race and division” and he worries that some teachers may create “inherent hostility in the classroom”. . by teaching it.
Democrats like Stacey Abrams, running for governor of Georgia, disagree, saying that teachers should not shy away from teaching the ugly parts of history.
“I believe I am a stronger person because I understand and was taught that there are not simple pieces, but the complexity of who we are,” she said. “Because you can’t be better, we can’t be a stronger country if we lie to ourselves about where we were, and how we get to a better place.”
“I think education is going to be the No. 1 issue at Capitals this year,” Mujio said.
Republicans are taking cues from Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial victory in Virginia, believing school policy could influence swing voters who voted for Democrats in the most recent Georgia elections.
Democrats consider the push to be mostly politically motivated.
“These are not central issues that we need to address,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Macon Democrat.
It is not clear what the proposals will do against Critical Race Theory. Dalton Republican Senate Education Committee Chairman Chuck Payne said Wednesday that he has yet to see a bill. The state education board passed a resolution in June that said schools should not “educate” students and teach that anyone who is inherently racist or should be treated differently because of their race.
One potential point of contention is whether the parent would be able to go to court or would otherwise be forced to take action upon seeing a violation. School groups want complaints to go to the State Professional Standards Commission, which handles current teacher license complaints.
Republicans are also bringing in new limits on inappropriate content in schools, another topic that is echoing fights in other states. Last year, Senate Bill 226 came close to passing. It was originally proposed to make school librarians subject to criminal prosecution for obscenity, but was rewritten to those who object to a physical appeal to a school principal, who had seven years to decide. There will be days whether to keep a book or other material.
Supporters of the bill actually said that a main concern is students’ access to proprietary databases. House Speaker Pro Tame Jan Jones, a Milton Republican, said she wants to block online access to inappropriate material, adding that she wants the state’s Department of Education to ensure all schools use adequate filtering programs. She said online learning has exposed weak controls during the pandemic.
“The concern is that students could easily be exposed to age-inappropriate content from school-issued devices or school-authorized search engines,” Jones said.
School librarians and free speech advocates have opposed the limit, but Jones said some of the concerns are misplaced. “I don’t want to burn any books,” she said.
The race and obscenity debate hinges on a parent’s ability to control their child’s education. This could lead to efforts to create a parental rights bill, something that could win support from Governor Brian Kemp.
“It’s a parent’s right to be heard,” Muzio said.
State superintendent Richard Woods told the Associated Press he would ask state education boards next week to adopt transparency measures. These include a public list of all external curricula used by a school district and all district-level tests given to students. Districts must also post budgets and surveys of students, teachers and staff.
Some lawmakers may demand that school districts hold classes in person, barring them from requiring students and staff to wear masks and barring them from requiring vaccines. Legislators may also argue afresh whether the state should subsidize more students attending private schools. Lawmakers can increase the amount of tax to private scholarship groups through tax credits above the current $100 million limit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.