Lawmakers pass bill to teach ‘American principles’

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers voted Thursday to designate a set of historical documents and speeches to incorporate into classroom work — a response to the national debate over critical race theory.

The Republican-dominated Senate, on a 21-15 vote, sent the education measure to Democratic Governor Andy Beshear. Other key elements of the bill would transfer principal hiring and curriculum setting authority to superintendents and away from school-based decision-making boards.

House lawmakers inserted the hotly debated civics provisions into what had been a school governance measure named a top priority by the Senate.

Most of the debate in the Senate on Thursday revolved around the additions to the measure. Ultimately, the senators accepted the changes made by the GOP-led House and presented the bill to the governor.

Proponents say the two dozen historical records and speeches listed in the legislation would provide a solid foundation for social studies work by Kentucky middle and high school students.

Opponents of the provisions have called them an overreach on the part of the legislature in curriculum decision-making by local school districts.

“It sets a bad precedent to list these documents in law, said Republican Senator Whitney Westerfield.

GOP Sen. Max Wise said the documents show the “good and bad” of US history. Integrating them into classroom work reinforces “American principles” that students should be learning, he said.

He assured that the measure would not stifle the freedom of expression of teachers or students. Wise sponsored the separate measure on the subject that was inserted into the bill sent to Beshear.

“None of this is going to tell a teacher that you can’t teach on a certain subject,” Wise said Thursday.

Documents listed in the measure include the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution and the Monroe Doctrine. The bill also lists speeches by Abraham Lincoln, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and Ronald Reagan.

Critical race theory is an academic framework that examines how racism has shaped public policy and institutions such as the legal system, and how these have perpetuated white dominance in society. Several GOP-led states have banned or restricted the teaching of critical race theory or similar concepts through laws or administrative actions.

Meanwhile, parts of the bill shifting key school governance decisions to superintendents and away from school-based decision-making boards have also sparked debate.

Proponents said assigning curriculum and principal hiring decisions to superintendents would strengthen public accountability for key decisions that determine school and student success.

“It gives our schools back to the community as a whole,” Republican Sen. John Schickel said.

Critics of the bill worry that consolidating more authority with superintendents will weaken the influence of teachers and parents in school decision-making.

School-based decision-making councils were created by the landmark Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. Councils include parents and teachers. The idea was to empower those closest to the students to help shape school policies.

Opponents of the bill also objected to a provision affecting Louisville by moving much of the day-to-day decision-making from the locally elected school board to the school superintendent. This part of the bill – also added by the House – indicates how often the school board can meet.

Criticizing the provision, Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey said, “How would we feel if Washington set limits on how often this body could meet?”

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The legislation is Senate Bill 1.

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