A new education bill in South Carolina, the “Transparency and Integrity in Education Act," is posing questions over its relationship to critical race theory and its overall effectiveness and value, according to opponents.
The bill, S.C. H. 3728, passed the South Carolina House of Representatives on Feb. 8 by a vote of 83 to 34. It has now moved to the Senate and, if passed into law, the bill could censor curriculum taught in the state’s K-12 public schools.
While the bill protects "the fact-based discussion of controversial aspects of history" and discussion of "the historical oppression of a particular group of people,” it does not protect the teaching of several “prohibited concepts,” including that an individual is inherently "privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive."
The bill also prohibits teaching the idea that "one race, sex, ethnicity, color, or national origin is inherently superior to another race, sex, ethnicity, color, or national origin," or that the "moral character of an individual is determined by the race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin of the individual."
Although neither the term “critical race theory,” or the abbreviation "CRT," is included in the bill, at least one opponent believes the legislation to be anti-CRT in nature. According to Legal Defense Fund, critical race theory is an "academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society."
Cameron Graham, a second-year political science student and the co-political action chair of USC's NAACP chapter, said he believes the bill has something to do with CRT.
“This bill was worded perfectly without saying 'CRT,' but we know that they’re trying to oppress it,” Graham said.
South Carolina Rep. Raye Felder (R-York), who sponsored the bill, said that she disagrees with that idea based on public testimony from parents and stakeholders.
“Truly, the legislation deals with transparency. It’s not trying to change what teachers teach or how teachers teach it,” Felder said.
Another sponsor of the bill, Rep. James Mikell “Mike” Burns (R-Greenville) said the bill “absolutely” targets CRT.
"That's not being hidden," Burns said. "That's part of this whole problem. Anything that divides kids, that pits one class or one race against another. It's ludicrous to do that."
Todd Shaw, an associate professor of political science and African American studies at USC, said that if the bill truly intends to target CRT, it is “trying to solve a problem that does not exist.”
"Critical race theory is really an advanced theory taught in graduate schools and law schools," Shaw said. “I don’t think there’s a public school in South Carolina, or in a lot of other places, that teach critical race theory, per se.”
Further, the bill mandates that schools implement a "complaint form” for parents and other individuals to report teachers or instructors who address its prohibited concepts in class, which is meant to increase transparency and collaboration between students, parents, teachers and the community, according to Felder. Responsibility for creating the forms would be in the hands of the S.C. Department of Education.
Felder said that these forms create a new essential, formal process for resolving issues of teachers straying outside of the given curriculum but that the issue the forms address is not as drastic as it may sound.
“In all reality, 99% of our classrooms out there are accurately, factually teaching the curriculum,” Felder said.
Shaw said he foresees issues with the complaint forms in their ability to allow parents to contribute to forms outside of their children’s respective school districts.
“If I’m in Columbia, and I object to something being taught in Clarendon County, should I? Should I have that right to do that? Is that fair?” Shaw said.
The cost of the bill’s implementation could vary greatly, as school districts surveyed by the Department of Education said this bill could cost them between $0 and $3 million, though exact expenses were not disclosed, according to the Greenville News.
While co-sponsors Burns and Felder agree that the forms should not cost as much as $3 million to implement, Shaw said that the cost is wholly unnecessary, regardless of what it could end up amounting to.
“It’s going to cost, in financial terms, more than it’s worth, and it’s certainly going to cost more than it’s worth in educational and morale terms,” Shaw said.
Graham believes there are also better uses for that kind of money.
“When I think of a worthy investment, I think of us getting broadband internet to rural communities. When I think of a worthy investment, I think of taking that $3 million and creating after school programs to keep our kids off of the streets,” Graham said.
Shaw also said that he worries that the bill will further politicize education and work against productive discussions about schools in the state.
“It will further weaponize debates about what should be in school curriculum and taught in classrooms,” Shaw said.
Felder, however, said that the bill does not hamper students’ ability to respectfully share their diverse views in classrooms or discuss controversial topics.
“A lot of things are controversial but they’re in the curriculum; we want them taught,” Felder said.
Despite his overall support, Burns concedes that the bill could come with some unintended consequences that are just “part of the process.”
“The pendulum swings, it usually swings too far. We’ll see if it swings too far, but at least the pushback is now there," Burns said. "We’re in a little tug of war right now.”
Burns, however, said there is still work to be done to address South Carolina’s educational issues, including the success of the curriculum.
“You can’t get 49th and 50th without having some problems," Burns said. "This bill doesn’t address every single problem.”
Graham said opposing politicians in the state should focus on their common goals to promote positive change, especially in the education system.
“At the end of the day, we have to realize that. We’re all in the same state. We all want the same thing for each other. We all want the same education,” Graham said.