Indiana Senate GOP Folds on CRT and Parents

Published February 22, 2022

National Review Online

From Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order against CRT, to the recall of three woke San Francisco school board members, to a passel of anti-CRT bills moving through state legislatures across the country, 2022 is shaping up as a banner year for efforts to wrest control of America’s schools from leftist ideologues and teachers’ unions.

But not in Indiana. Despite clearing the Indiana House on an impressive 60–37 vote — largely along party lines — House Bill 1134, a strong measure that bars critical race theory (CRT), ensures curriculum transparency, and expands parental involvement in schools, was all but gutted last week by Republicans on Indiana’s Senate Education Committee. Why?

An unholy alliance of teachers’ unions and a thoroughly biased media has intimidated Republicans in Senate leadership and on the Senate Education Committee into surrender. Meanwhile, Indiana’s Republican governor, Eric Holcomb, has done everything in his power to run away from this issue, and nothing whatever to lead. Indiana House Republicans, led by sponsor Representative Tony Cook, deserve praise for producing a strong and innovative bill. As far as statewide officials go, Indiana attorney general Todd Rokita has been the only one providing testimony in support of the House bill and advocating improvements to the Senate version. It’s been crickets from Holcomb’s secretary of education, Katie Jenner, however.

In short, weak Republicans in the Indiana Senate have effectively killed a strong CRT bill that easily passed the House and was cruising to final passage. If Indiana’s Senate Republicans don’t turn around and restore the key provisions of House Bill 1134, the state’s parents will have been effectively abandoned by their elected representatives. What is the point of having a 39–11 Republican majority in the Indiana Senate if the body can’t pass a decent CRT bill in this year of parental revolt? Voters need to take names and hold Indiana’s Republican state senators accountable at the ballot box for this failure. Either that, or the Indiana Senate needs to turn this retreat around right now.

House Bill 1134 is an impressive piece of legislation. As with any ambitious bill, there is room for a tweak or two, and I have a couple to recommend. On the whole, however, HB 1134 is significantly stronger and more innovative than similar bills in other states. Here’s why.

In addition to barring indoctrination in key tenets of critical race theory, HB 1134 sets up a novel mechanism for involving parents in curriculum decisions, ensures curriculum transparency, makes sure that parents are informed of, and consent to, psychological treatment or testing of their children, and includes powerful mechanisms to enforce these various provisions. Or at least that’s what HB 1134 did until the Republicans on the Senate Education Committee gutted the entire bill last week.

Opponents of HB 1134 — above all, the Indiana State Teachers Association — have utterly misrepresented the bill. The most egregious misrepresentation, generally repeated without serious challenge by the press, is the claim that the bill would ban the teaching of “topics that might risk making a student uncomfortable.” No, the bill does not bar student discomfort. Opponents falsely claim that teaching about, say, religious persecution during the Spanish Inquisition would be banned for potentially making Catholic students uncomfortable. And of course, opponents (falsely) claim that the bill would ban any lessons on the history of racism in America, because that might make some white students feel guilty. It has even been absurdly claimed that the law might ban the teaching of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

What the bill actually does is to prevent teachers from telling students that they should feel guilt, discomfort, or anguish because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, religion, or gender. No teacher has to be silent about Pearl Harbor because it might make an ethnically Japanese American feel guilty. At the same time, no teacher should tell an ethnically Japanese American that he ought to feel guilty because of Pearl Harbor.

The rise of CRT means that Indiana needs this bill. Last year, for example, it emerged that an “equity consultant” group employed by the city of Fishers, Ind., had attacked “whiteness” as a “virus.” Plenty of other material attacking “whiteness” was included in training for teachers in the district. Last June, the Federalist’s Gabe Kaminsky reported that state agencies in Indiana helped fund an appearance by two of the most extreme CRT activists in the country — Deena Simmons and Bettina Love — at a statewide teachers’ conference. Simmons and Love are notorious for their denunciations of “whiteness.”

Here’s the bottom line. Extreme CRT has already arrived in Indiana, and the assault is bound to grow. If HB 1134 fails altogether, or passes in its gutted form, the Republicans in the state senate — along with Indiana’s MIA Republican governor — will bear a heavy responsibility for any attacks on “whiteness,” and other similar CRT nonsense, endured by Indiana’s children from here on out. Attention Republican members of the Indiana Senate. Do you really want to arouse the wrath of your state’s parents? Parents vote.

Speaking of parents, HB 1134 as passed by the House contained one of the most original and potentially important proposals regarding parent involvement I’ve seen to date. The bill would have every local school district establish a “Curriculum Materials Advisory Committee” made up of 60 percent parents and 40 percent teachers, administrators, or interested members of the community. This would give parents a significant voice in curriculum and could easily become a model for the country.

While local curriculum committees with significant parent representation are certainly an idea worth trying, I can see room for tweaks down the road. Ultimate control still rightly rests with the school board, which appoints the Curriculum Advisory Committee. In Indiana, however, voters don’t even know the party affiliation of school-board candidates. That may need to be changed. Also, HB 1134’s rules on curriculum advisory committee composition allow a bit more scope than I’d like to see for the committee to be stacked with “parents” who are also school employees. That said, this is overall an exciting and innovative proposal. In the year of the parent, why is the Indiana Senate killing off an idea that brings parents into the curriculum process? States are famously called “laboratories of democracy.” Local curriculum committees with real parent participation are just the experiment America needs right now.

And how can parents play a role in curriculum choice unless they know what’s actually being taught? The House-passed version of HB 1134 contains strong curriculum-transparency provisions, very much in the spirit of an approach I’ve touted myself. The idea is to post curricular materials on the Internet. That way parents can see them all at once, at their leisure, and cannot be held hostage to piecemeal revelations during working hours. This excellent and important feature of HB 1134 has also been gutted by the state senate.

The House-passed version of HB 1134 also included a complaint procedure for violations of the bill’s provisions, with lawsuits as a recourse in cases where complaints cannot be satisfactorily resolved. I’ve heard opponents in other states deride CRT bills as empty rhetorical gestures. HB 1134, as passed by the Indiana House, is anything but. Yet that has resulted in more, not less, opposition.

The biggest flaw in HB 1134, in my view, is that it has never included provisions designed to bar “action civics” (which I like to call “protest civics”). The civics law that Indiana passed last session will surely enable the practice of “action civics,” where students are required to engage in political protests and lobbying for civics-course credit. These political protests and lobbying expeditions are invariably for leftist causes. And typically, students are pressured into taking political stands by the biases of their teachers, their peers, and the many heavily politicized nonprofits that partner with schools to promote “action civics.” Texas barred the practice of action civics last year, and Indiana should do the same now. (I provide model legislation to bar action civics, here, and say more on why states should bar action civics here.)

That said, HB 1134 is overall a fine bill that deserves passage in some strong form, rather than after a thorough gutting at the behest of teachers’ unions that can’t even honestly describe it. Unfortunately, the state’s Republican-controlled Senate is on the verge of letting down the parents and voters of Indiana. If HB 1134 is killed, or becomes law in its current near-totally gutted state, Indiana’s voters should consider replacing their Republican state senators with officeholders made of sterner stuff.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Beyond his work with Education and American Ideals, Mr. Kurtz is a key contributor to American public debates on a wide range of issues from K–12 and higher education reform, to the challenges of democratization abroad, to urban-suburban policies, to the shaping of the American left’s agenda. Mr. Kurtz has written on these and other issues for various journals, particularly National Review Online (where he is a contributing editor).

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