A Virginia Senate committee on Thursday killed two key pieces of education legislation sought by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, including one that was designed to eliminate teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools.
The committee also killed a bill that would have made it easier to create charter schools in districts that perform poorly on math and reading.
Education reform has been a key part of Youngkin's agenda, but Democrats hold a narrow 21-19 advantage in the Senate. Republicans had held out some hope that the Senate Education and Health Committee, which has several moderate Democrats, would provide bipartisan support to parts of Youngkin's agenda. So far, though, Democrats have largely been able to kill Youngkin's bills.
The critical race theory bill would have banned the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts” in the schools. It died on a party-line vote with all nine Democrats on the 15-member committee voting against the bill.
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The Youngkin administration is still seeking to scrub out critical race theory concepts at an administrative level. Youngkin issued an executive order requiring the Department of Education to review and root out any policies that teach “inherently divisive concepts."
Both the bill and the executive order defined “inherently divisive concepts” as those that portray once race, sex or religious faith as inherently superior, or teach that an individual is inherently racist as a result of his skin color.
Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. It 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.
Democrats on the committee said the concept was poorly defined in the legislation. They also questioned the notion that critical race theory is taught in Virginia schools.
Republicans said there are ample examples of critical race theory being promoted in teacher training materials, and cited evidence that it has bled into the classroom. A frequently cited recent example was the use of a bingo card titled “Identifying Your Privilege” at an Oakton High School English class that included squares like “white,” “heterosexual,” “military kid” and “Christian.”
“As someone who has taught critical race theory. I know that that is not in the curriculum of any public school in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, a professor and an African American committee member who spoke at a hearing last month that featured testimony from Youngkin's nominee for secretary of education, Aimee Guidera.
That assertion prompted an angry response from Republican Sen. Mark Peake, who said there is ample documentation that concepts linked to critical race theory have been touted by state administrators over the past decade.
“It is important to answer falsehoods with facts,” Peake said.
The bill to make it easier to create charter schools failed on an 8-7 vote, with moderate Democrat Lynwood Lewis joining the committee's six Republicans. Guidera testified on behalf of the bill, saying it was an important part of Youngkin's agenda to provide high-quality education in places where public schools are failing students.
Democratic Sen. Chap Petersen, a moderate who at times has sided with Republicans on education issues, could have provided the deciding vote to advance the legislation. He said he's amenable to the concept of charter schools but was concerned that the structure of the bill would run afoul of the state constitution.
The committee also killed legislation that would have required localities to use school resource officers. Some districts have moved away from the use of school resource officers recently, saying they don't want police officers to criminalize student misconduct that is better handled outside of the criminal justice system.
A Republican-sponsored bill that would have restricted transgender girls' participation on girls' interscholastic sports teams also was killed by the committee.
The committee did vote 8-7 to pass Republican-sponsored legislation directing the department of education to develop guidelines for school boards to notify parents when their children are assigned to read books with sexually explicit material. Democrats Petersen and Lewis joined Republicans on the committee to advance the legislation.
Three Democrats also joined with Republicans to advance legislation that requires schools to provide in-person education. Similar legislation passed the General Assembly last year in response to parent concerns about extended use of virtual learning during the pandemic, but it is set to expire this summer. The legislation extends the requirements for in-person learning beyond 2022.