Bill aimed at keeping “critical race theory” out of Texas classrooms heads to the governor’s desk for final approval
May 29, 2021
Texas Republicans were claiming victory late Friday night, saying that they had successfully pushed through one of the most controversial education bills — which advocates said would make it more difficult to address racism in schools — despite last-ditch efforts by Democrats to kill the legislation through parliamentary procedures.
Friday afternoon, a point of order in the House seemed to have effectively killed the bill aimed at keeping “critical race theory” from being taught in public schools. But — with deadlines quickly approaching before session ends on Monday — the Senate voted along party lines, 18-13, to adopt the bill as the House initially passed it.
“For all intents and purposes, it’s headed to the governor’s desk,” said Enrique Marquez, spokesman for House Speaker Dade Phelan.
Educators say the bill would have a chilling effect on conversations about race in the classroom. Supporters characterize the bill as a way to keep critical race theory out of classrooms, saying it fuels division and causes white students to be ashamed of their race.
In Texas’ upper chamber, lawmakers initially stripped a number of provisions the House approved, including some that would have required students to learn the history of Native Americans and study the writings of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Senators also removed a provision that would have mandated students learn about the history of white supremacy and the ways in which it is morally wrong.
Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, who called the successful point of order in the House, issued a release late Friday saying that by allowing the Senate vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went against the Texas Constitution that prohibits passing a House bill after the 135th legislative day.
“It’s ironic that Lt. Governor Patrick ignored the Texas Constitution to revive a bill about civics,” he said in the statement.
The bill’s author, Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, had previously told House members during the bill’s debate that the legislation was needed because “at a time when racial tensions are at a boiling point, we don’t need to burden our kids with guilt for racial crimes they had nothing to do with.”
Sunday is the last day for the House to approve conference committee reports and advance legislation to the governor’s desk for signature.
As a former educator, Talarico told The Dallas Morning News he found the bill offensive. When he taught on the west side of San Antonio, he said, he taught all Black and brown students.
“This was an attack on my students, so I took it very personally,” he said.
Many school leaders, business groups and civic organizations opposed this bill that aimed to ban critical race theory saying it would have made it more difficult to not only discuss racism but also take steps to ensure equity in schools. Dallas school officials, for example, discussed taking legal action if the legislation became law.
Other legislatures across the country — particularly in conservative-leaning states — are also debating efforts to ban critical race theory, which is an academic framework that explores how policies and laws uphold systemic racism.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, attempted to strike the bill down during procedural moves late Friday. He called a point of order, invoking a Senate rule that no vote could be taken on the passage of any bill on its third reading within the last 24 hours of a session, unless it was to correct an error or unless four-fifths of the members voted to suspend the rule.
After a 15-minute break, Patrick announced that the point of order was overruled, but did not elaborate. After West asked again for reconsideration on the ruling, Patrick declined.
Prior to the vote, West noted to the bill’s Senate temporary sponsor, Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, that the legislation could mean an educator could not be compelled to teach a current events subject as directed by a supervisor — for example, such as on issues related to Black Lives Matter. That could spark issues with conflicts in contractual obligations, he said.
West added that the legislation did more to divide citizens than unite, which does not represent what the country needs.
The Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition issued a statement late Friday night saying the bill’s passage — and the bending of rules to get it to the finish line — set a dangerous precedent that ignores hundreds of groups opposed to the legislation but placates national and conservative donors who “wish to erase the truth about racism and white supremacy.”
“The actions taken in the Senate tonight reveal just how politically motivated this piece of legislation actually is, and just how far removed it is from the real lives of teachers and students in Texas,” the statement read.
Dallas Morning News reporters Lauren McGaughy, Allie Morris and Eva-Marie Ayala contributed reporting.