Civics Education in Texas: A Progress Report

Karole Fedrick

Texas policymakers finally seem to have settled on the nature of civics education legislation in 2021. They’ve made some good progress—but there have been some unfortunate setbacks too.

Earlier this year Governor Greg Abbott signed into law HB 3979 and HB 4509, which became effective as Education Code on September 1. A new bill, SB 3, passed the Texas state legislature during the special summer session. SB 3 rewrites HB 3979. If Governor Abbott signs it, as he most likely will, it will become effective as Education Code around December 3.

The laws are a mixed bag.

Although it does not refer to Critical Race Theory (CRT), HB4509 fosters in K-12 education informed American patriotism, knowledge of Texas history, and conversance with the free enterprise system. In particular, HB 4059 added patriotism to the Objectives of Public Education. It will also help stop history revisionism by requiring public school students to study fundamental documents in Texas and American history. HB 4059 went into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. SB 3 made trivial changes to HB 4059 but left the substance unchanged.

HB 3979, primarily authored by Representative Steve Toth, was written to stop history revisionism beginning with the 2022-2023 school year. It also prohibits student political activism and CRT—but only in social studies classes. Democrats added a reading wish-list of topics and figures that aligned with the victimology of CRT, which would have rendered HB 3979 useless. Despite Rep. Toth’s valiant efforts, the version of HB 3979 that passed was not a good bill. Texans needed SB 3, which repealed and rewrote most of HB 3979.

But it is still disappointing. On the positive side of the ledger, SB 3 extends HB 3979’s prohibition of the intellectual components of CRT throughout all K-12 education and training. It also begins to provide curriculum transparency by requiring school districts with websites to give parents a way to log in to the district’s server or portal to inspect the school’s curricula—although what Texans need is full transparency so that parents can see all school materials at the click of a button. It also prohibits school districts from using private funds (i.e., progressive nonprofit organizations such as iCivics or Generation Citizen) to develop or purchase curricula with the intellectual components of CRT.

On the negative side of the ledger, SB 3 does not prohibit CRT in student-led activities—a loophole that could allow schools to arrange “student-led” rallies for Black Lives Matter (BLM) or so-called “anti-racism.” SB 3 also allows students to work as interns and take political action—that is, it preserves the enormous loophole that allows social justice activists to use students as free labor and political pawns. Additionally, it allows school districts to use external personnel for training—which leaves the school door open to the vast number of private-sector “diversity” and “equity” trainers. Worse, SB 3 creates a “civics training program” that can be used to smuggle in CRT and action civics—and probably will be, since CRT vocabulary (diversity, equity, justice, anti-bias, cultural competency,identity, etc.) pervades the training materials in the newly-formed reading academies. The civics academies are supposed to be governed by SB 3’s anti-CRT restrictions, but they seem crafted to be a Trojan Horse for left-leaning “civics education” organizations such as iCivics.

In any case, the CRT-prohibitions have come too late. Austin Independent School District (AISD), for example, has been conducting “equity” training of staff and students for almost two years. There are already student-led “equity clubs” in all AISD high schools. Social justice advocates have already set up student organizations that are immune to SB 3’s restrictions.

There are many further loopholes in SB 3 and in the other bills. Most importantly, there are no sanctions for administrators or teachers who violate its provisions. Determined social justice advocates—and there are far too many in the Texas public schools—can break these laws with little fear of any consequence.

SB 3 will give some moral and legal assistance to school districts, teachers, school boards, and parents who want to keep CRT, action civics, and every radical ideology out of the schools. But it won’t do much by itself to restrain social justice advocates from indoctrinating Texas public school students. Texas policymakers haven’t yet done that job properly. For now, Texas citizens need to step up to the challenge.

Karole Fedrick is Education Chair at Texas Eagle Forum.

Image: Joshua J. Cotten, Public Domain

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