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Bill that would have studied CRT, DEI in schools dead after confusion, dispute among lawmakers

Rep. Valarie Hodges proposed a bill to collect information on diversity programs and race-related teaching.
Allison Allsop
LSU Manship School News Service
Rep. Valarie Hodges proposed a bill to collect information on diversity programs and race-related teaching.

A resolution that would have requested K-12 schools and higher education institutions to report on diversity initiatives and programs was ultimately rejected in a Louisiana House committee Wednesday after hours of confusion over buzzwords like critical race theory and how it might impact education programs and funding.

The resolution, which was deferred in a 6-5 vote, sought to collect data and information on school spending related to CRT and diversity, equity and inclusion measures on all K-12 and higher education campuses in the state. It would not have banned these initiatives, though opponents fear that was its long-term intent.

After hours of discussion in the House Education committee, lawmakers and state officials were still at odds about what programs fell under its definition of diversity and critical race theory and ultimately voted against the resolution.

“This is a very problematic resolution as I see it,” Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, said. “You’re asking for school-level reporting on items that have no clear definition of what they are.”

Lawmakers also seemed to have trouble explaining CRT - one of the two initiatives this resolution targets. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a foundational framework that aims to foster fairness and participation for everyone, especially historically marginalized groups. Critical race theory is a concept taught mostly in law schools that looks at how racism has shaped policy and institutions. It has never been required at schools in Louisiana.

When asked for a definition of critical race theory, the resolution’s author, Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, also seemed to struggle to give a clear definition. Hodges falsely claimed LSU has a critical race theory department. Higher Education Commissioner Dr. Kim Hunter Reed said there are no such departments at any of Louisiana’s universities.

Hodges and other supporters said the resolution is seeking transparency about how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

“I don’t understand the anger over this because we’re simply asking how much is being spent,” Hodges said.

Opponents of the resolution, including the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said it would place an unfair burden on schools. Several higher education officials noted that the language of the bill would include almost every program at schools, saying that all resources are intended to foster inclusion and success for all groups.

“The work that we do in our community and technical colleges is about lifting everyone,” said Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. “You want to know the answer to how much money we spend? Every stinkin’ nickel.”

The resolution was only meant to collect data. However, it would have required schools to send their reports to the House Education and the House Appropriations Committee, which opponents questioned and alluded that lawmakers might pull funding if they are unhappy with the reports.

Hodges suggested that monitoring this spending could help fix state budget issues, though it is unclear that spending on these programs is significant enough to help solve larger budget issues.

Plus, K-12 funding is protected by the state Constitution. Higher education institutions would bear the largest impact if lawmakers ever chose to pull funding on the basis of diversity-related spending reports. Any pulled funding or other impacts could disproportionately affect the groups that diversity measures aim to support, including people of color.

“At its core, this is a racist instrument,” Sullivan said.

Reed also said it would be difficult to gauge spending on those programs because all school resources are meant to foster diversity, equity and inclusion to help ensure students graduate.

Confusion and debate about critical race theory and diversity measures in schools has erupted in local board meetings and during legislative sessions across the nation in recent years, including in Florida where presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed to end all diversity measures at state colleges.

Several other states have looked to mimic DeSantis’ efforts as part of a larger, national agenda to end “woke” policies in education.

In Louisiana, multiple gubernatorial candidates have called out “wokeness” on college campuses, and the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee unanimously passed a resolution in April urging lawmakers to end diversity initiatives, according to the Louisiana Illuminator.

All of those efforts have been met with pushback from education officials, especially at the higher education level. Other bills in past sessions that would have explicitly banned critical race theory all received strong opposition from education officials and failed to pass.

“We have gone too far down this line,” Sullivan said. “The little man in Florida does not drive policy in Louisiana.”

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.

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