Texas doing fine 60 days after lifting mask mandate

Texas governor Greg Abbott (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The Texas legislature has just passed House Bill 3979, a landmark education bill. It is the first law in the country barring not only the core concepts of Critical Race Theory (CRT) from K–12 schools, but “protest civics” as well. The practice of protest civics — mandatory student protests and lobbying after school (invariably for leftist causes) — is every bit as much a threat to K–12 schools as CRT. Even if every state legislature in the country were to bar CRT, the federal civics bills being considered right now in Congress could still force leftist indoctrination on the states via protest civics. That is why the passage of Texas H.B. 3979 is so important.

The momentum coming out of Texas is significant. Already, Ohio representative Don Jones has introduced a bill broadly similar to what just passed in Texas. Other states are considering legislation that also take on both protest civics and CRT. We may soon see a wave of expanded K–12 protections sweep over the states. That means the news out of Texas — and now Ohio as well — is very good.

That said, the Texas bill emerged from its legislative struggle a bit raggedy. Democrats fought the measure tooth and nail. While they failed to undo the protections against protest civics and CRT, Democrats did manage to weigh the bill down with a long, scattershot list of readings that inappropriately forces a detailed and highly debatable curriculum onto local districts. Quite apart from arguments about the readings themselves, states should not dictate curriculum to districts at this level of specificity. Democrats also managed to block a number of important technical fixes to the bill.

None of this is prohibitive. Governor Abbott should certainly sign H.B. 3979. Abbott would be well-advised, however, to pare down the vastly over-extended list of required readings and make some additional technical fixes during September’s special session.

Undoubtedly, one outlier group — the Texas Federation of Republican Women (TFRW) — will be pushing for Abbott to veto the bill. As I’ve noted previously, TFRW is completely out of step with conservatives and Republicans on this issue. TFRW has been the most vocal member of the Texas Civic Education Coalition, led by Wendy May-Dreyer, chair of the national board of iCivics, the most prominent national supporter of protest civics. I and others have written at some length on the history and current activities of iCivics, detailing the way in which this Cambridge, Mass.,-based group undermined the high-quality Massachusetts history standards and replaced them with thin and fashionable leftist standards; the way in which the goals of iCivics and its coalition partners line up with partisan Democratic agendas; and the way in which iCivics pushes CRT onto our schools. It is passing strange to see an ostensibly Republican organization such as TFRW doing the legislative legwork for iCivics and the protest-civics crowd.

Add to this the stunning revelations just published by AMAC (Association of Mature American Citizens — the conservative counterpart to the AARP). AMAC researchers now say that, “according to federal records, iCivics staffers have donated exclusively to Democrat politicians or Democrat political action committees over the past eight major election cycles since iCivics was founded.” That is, according to AMAC, every political donation from iCivics employees since the founding of the organization has gone to Democrats. Somehow, a federation of Republican women is marching to the legislative drumbeat of an overwhelmingly Democrat-aligned group. Governor Abbott would do well to lay aside TFRW’s advice on this issue, sign H.B. 3979, then make the needed fixes during this fall’s special legislative session.

That is by far the most likely outcome here. It’s tough to imagine Governor Abbott vetoing the first state bill to bar both protest civics and CRT at a moment when the conservative movement in Texas and beyond is intensely focused on this issue. The blowback to a veto in Texas — and nationally — would be enormous. Any effort to gut H.B. 3979’s protections against protest civics and CRT during the special session under the influence of TFRW and iCivics would also spark a huge negative response from conservatives nationally.

Congratulations are in order on the signal achievement of H.B. 3979’s passage. Particular credit goes to the House sponsor, Steve Toth, who defended the bill with notable grace under intense pressure, and House speaker Dade Phelan, who backed Toth every step of the way. Credit for sponsoring the Senate version goes to Brandon Creighton. Special notice as well goes to Senator Bryan Hughes, who handled the Senate floor debate with impressive skill while Senator Creighton was recovering from a car accident. Senate leader lieutenant governor Dan Patrick was a champion of H.B. 3979 as well. Like Governor Abbott, Patrick would be wise to keep his distance from advocates of protest civics during a special session. The national conservative movement is closely following this battle.

As for the needed technical fixes to the bill, my recommendations can be found in the model bill I’ve published with the National Association of Scholars. That model inspired both the Texas and Ohio bills, and now seems likely to spread to other states. The advocates of protest civics and CRT are far from done with their crusade. As of now, however, they have both got a major battle on their hands.

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

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