TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Chairpersons of the House and Senate education committees took the Kansas State Board of Education to task Wednesday because they don’t think the panel is taking seriously enough lawmakers’ and parents’ concerns about how race and racism are discussed in schools.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, told board members to direct state Department of Education staff to “get real” about how Kansas schools are applying the concept of “critical race theory,” which centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
Baumgardner said in Wednesday’s meeting that she is aware of four bills being drafted that oppose the teaching of critical race theory, including bills inspired by those in Oklahoma and Texas.
“That issue is absolutely not going to go away in the state of Kansas,” Baumgardner said.
In July, the state school board issued a statement saying that critical race theory is not part of state academic standards. Some parents say that skirts the issue, pointing to class reading assignments and diversity training for teachers as examples of the discussions about race that they oppose.
The state school board's statement also said that critics were conflating critical race theory with “federal and state policies and requirements for measuring achievement, fairness and opportunity in education.”
On Wednesday, Baumgardner criticized the statement, saying that some perceived it as a "smokescreen."
Board Chairman Jim Porter and other board members did not respond to Baumgardner's comments during the meeting. However, he told The Associated Press later in the day that board members plan to discuss critical race theory in a “relatively near” meeting.
“I'm one-tenth of the group, but as a general rule, we don't believe it's a real problem,” Porter said. “However, it is a real problem to others. So consequently, we need to look into it further.”
Rep. Steve Huebert, a Valley Center Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, said the board's July statement raised questions for him about whether a practice called culturally responsive teaching was opening the door for school districts and teachers "who are motivated to do some things that maybe aren’t in our standards.”
Culturally responsive teaching generally refers to an approach that connects students’ cultures and life experiences with what they learn in school.
Nationally, a push for culturally responsive teaching gained steam following last year’s police killing of George Floyd. Lawmakers and governors have championed legislation to limit the teaching of material that explores how race and racism influence American politics, culture and law. Laws have been enacted in Tennessee, Idaho and Oklahoma.
Oklahoma's new law governing the teaching of race went into effect July 1 and prohibits teaching that individuals, by virtue of race or gender, are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
On Twitter, follow Andy Tsubasa Field at https://twitter.com/AndyTsubasaF