Senate GOP joins fight to limit how race is discussed in Georgia schools

Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) speaks in favor of HB218 on Monday, March 29, 2021. On Wednesday, he introduced Senate legislation that would punish K-12 schools and higher education for teaching certain concepts about race and ethnicity. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) speaks in favor of HB218 on Monday, March 29, 2021. On Wednesday, he introduced Senate legislation that would punish K-12 schools and higher education for teaching certain concepts about race and ethnicity. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

After promising to define what they say is a problem with the way race is discussed in Georgia classrooms, Republicans in the state Senate introduced legislation Wednesday that mirrors some of the language in a bill already filed in the House.

The new legislation, introduced by Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Cornelia Republican, would prohibit teaching “divisive concepts” in both K-12 classrooms and in public higher education.

At issue is critical race theory. It is used in higher education to examine the effect of racism on society. Public school leaders say the theory itself is not taught in K-12 classrooms, but critics say its tenets about systemic inequity have influenced teachers and curriculum.

Senate Bill 377 would withhold up to 10% in state funding from violating school systems — half as much as House Bill 888. Critics of the House bill have said it would harm students by cutting funding and by limiting what teachers could say.

The Senate bill also would withhold unspecified amounts of state and federal funding from public higher education institutions that violate its provisions.

It would prohibit espousing that people are inherently superior, racist or responsible for acts by others of the same ethnicity or race, or that the country and state are “fundamentally or systemically” racist.

If the bill becomes law, it would establish a complaint process that starts at a school and can be appealed up to the state Board of Education, which would decide whether to withhold funding.

Conservative politicians across the country have been backing legislation that limits how race is taught, illustrating the way “culture wars” over race and values are often fought in schools.

Gov. Brian Kemp put the topic atop his State of the State address in early January, saying he would work with lawmakers to stop the “divisive ideology” in schools.

Critics say such legislation is being deployed in a strategy to energize voters over “manufactured emergencies” in an election year.

Lawmakers backing these bills haven’t yet publicly cited specific examples of critical race theory being taught in K-12 settings, but say legislative hearings may reveal whether it is widespread or isolated.

Staff writer Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this story.

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