MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin public schools would be prohibited from teaching students and training employees about concepts such as systemic racism and implicit bias under a Republican bill the state Assembly passed Tuesday on a party line vote.
The measure would also have to pass the state Senate before it would head to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who almost certainly would veto it. The bill has no Democratic co-sponsors, but they don’t have the votes to stop it in the Legislature.
Wisconsin’s proposal follows a national trend of Republican-controlled legislatures moving to thwart certain ideas they associate with “critical race theory,” a framework legal scholars developed in the 1970s and 1980s that centers on the view that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and serves to maintain the dominance of whites in society.
“This is a Republican attempt to defund education by usurping local district policies and entangling school districts, as well as independent charter schools, in lawsuits based solely on opinions and not facts,” Democratic state Rep. LaKeshia Myers, of Milwaukee, said before debate began.
Myers said that critical race theory is not taught in any K-12 public school and the bill is “a poor attempt at reverse psychology to sow seeds of division and hate by playing on the fears of a shrinking white majority.”
The Assembly’s Democratic minority leader, Gordon Hintz, described the bill as the “white supremacy preservation act” before debate on it began. He said it was “part of a national movement to create a new boogeyman in the culture wars to use fear and resentment to motivate base voters.”
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos defended the measure, suggesting that teaching critical race theory concepts would be racist.
“What is the harm in ensuring that we make every single person in the state realize that we don’t want sexism, we don’t want racism, we don’t want stereotyping in our schools?” Vos said before debate began. “I’m disappointed that it’s become some kind of a rallying cry for the left.”
The Assembly passed the bill on a 60-38 vote, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against.
Eight Republican governors have signed bills or budgets into law banning the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools or limiting how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the classroom. Similar bills have been introduced or other steps have been taken in 19 additional states, according to an Education Week analysis.
Republicans across the country are using critical race theory and “indoctrination” as catchall phrases to describe racial concepts they find objectionable, including white privilege, systemic inequality and inherent bias.
The movement against the theory gained traction last year when former President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring federal contractors from conducting racial sensitivity trainings. Several state lawmakers subsequently inserted language from Trump’s now-defunct order into their own bills.
Education groups, including the National Education Association and the National Council for the Social Studies, are worried that the proposals will have a chilling effect on teachers and classroom discussions, and lead to a sanitized version of the nation’s history being taught in schools.
The Wisconsin bill would prohibit teaching that one race or sex is superior to another, that a person is inherently racist or sexist by virtue of his or her race or sex, and that a person’s moral character isn’t determined by race or sex. It would also ban teaching that a person should feel guilty for past acts committed by people of his or her race or sex and that systems based on meritocracy are racist or sexist, or designed to oppress people of another race.
The only registered supporter of the bill was the conservative anti-abortion rights, anti-gay marriage group Wisconsin Family Action. There were 18 registered opponents, including groups representing school boards, administrators and other officials, Milwaukee Public Schools, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Wisconsin Council of Churches and the statewide teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council.
Another bill the Assembly passed on Tuesday would prohibit local governments and state agencies from training employees on such concepts, mirroring the Trump executive order that President Joe Biden lifted in January.
Violations of the Wisconsin bills would result in the loss of state aid for schools and funding for state agencies.