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Bill to collect data on school diversity programs rejected

thumbnail_31EDUC Photo Hodges.jpg
Posted at 4:51 AM, Jun 01, 2023

BATON ROUGE, La. —The House Education Committee rejected a resolution Wednesday that would have asked public schools, including universities, to provide information on programs and activities related to critical race theory, diversity, equity and inclusion, and social-emotional learning.

The resolution was deferred on a 6-5 vote. Two Republicans—Reps. Vincent “Vinney” St. Blanc III, of Franklin, and Barbara Reich Freiberg, of Baton Rouge—joined four Democrats in rejecting the proposal.

A major contention point, highlighted by public education officials at all levels, was the resolution’s lack of definitions for the various subjects. The vote also represented a relatively rare instance in which Louisiana Republicans blocked a push on a cultural issue targeted by national party activists.

Rep. Ken Brass, D-Vacherie, asked the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, to define critical race theory. She dodged the question, saying, “different people interpret it different ways.”

He repeated his question, with a similar response from Hodges. Brass asked instead, “What are people teaching?”

“That one race is superior or inferior to another, or that some people are advantaged because of the color of their skin,” Hodges replied. “And I do not believe that. I think that we have equal opportunity, and we should not judge one another based on the color of our skin.

Ethan Melancon, representing the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the lack of definitions made it unclear what exactly was being asked of the schools. He said schools have provided information like this before, and making them do it again would pose a bureaucratic burden.

“There are no CRT in our school systems,” Melancon said. “This has been reported.”

At one point in the hearing, Hodges said she believed there was a critical race theory department at LSU. But State Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed later said there were no critical race theory departments at universities anywhere in Louisiana.

Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said the resolution was not the accountability instrument Hodges portrayed it as.

“You’re asking people of color to justify why they need resources spent on them,” he said.

He also touched on how the bill was fueled by a national culture war debate. “The little man in Florida does not drive policy in Louisiana,” he said in an apparent reference to presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has opposed diversity programs in schools.

Rep. Tammy T. Phelps, D-Shreveport, echoed his point.

“We know it's a national agenda item. We know that,” she said. “So just be honest and respectful to all of us and say that, then we can move on.”

Hodges and opponents of her resolution defended it by saying it simply claimed to collect information. She said the information would not necessarily be used to deflate diversity programs.