Texas Now Requires New Charter Schools to Ensure They Won’t Teach Critical Race Theory

Fifth grade teacher Hagit Lifshitz leads a class in reading a book in Hebrew at Eleanor Kolitz Hebrew Language Academy, a public charter school in San Antonio, in 2013. (Jennifer Whitney/The Texas Tribune)

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The Texas Education Agency confirmed mid-February it now requires new charter schools to submit a “statement of assurance” that the school will follow so-called “critical race theory” laws before opening its doors to the public.

Last year, Texas lawmakers passed two laws designed to limit how teachers could discuss issues of race in the classroom. The state’s current law, Senate Bill 3, replaced an earlier measure, House Bill 3979. Both have been labeled by conservatives as anti-critical race theory laws although the term is not included in either law.

“As part of the routine contingencies of the charter application process, TEA included a general contingency for all approved Generation 26 applicants that they submit a statement of assurance that the school design and curricular materials are aligned with the TEKS including all clauses of HB 3979 and any subsequent related legislation,” the agency said in an Thursday email to The Texas Tribune, referring to the standards that outline what students learn in each course or grade, called Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

The new requirement was first asked for charter schools set to open in August. The agency did not immediately say if it will require this statement beyond that applicant pool, nor elaborate on why the assurance was needed or whether they will expand it to include all charter, or even all public, schools. A charter school is a public school that is state-funded but run mostly by nonprofits.

In January, the education news outlet Chalkbeat reported how an application for a new charter school in San Antonio was approved, then put on hold because the school had a quote from author Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” on its website and application materials.

These efforts in secondary schools have been mislabeled by some conservatives as the teaching of critical race theory, something that has always been taught on the university level. Critical race theory is the idea that racism is embedded in legal systems and not limited to individuals. But it has become a common phrase used by conservatives to include anything about race taught or discussed in public secondary schools.

Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick vowed to ban the teaching of critical race theory at Texas’ public colleges and universities

The state’s current law, SB 3, states a “teacher may not be compelled to discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” The law doesn’t define what a controversial issue is. If a teacher does discuss these topics, they must “explore that topic objectively and in a manner free from political bias.”

The law also also states that America’s history of slavery can’t be taught as contributing to the “true founding of the United States” and that slavery is nothing more than a deviation from the country’s foundations of liberty and equality.

Brian Whitley, vice president of communications and research at the Texas Public Charter Schools Association, said he hasn’t heard before of charter schools having to provide any statement that the school will follow state laws.

“It’s sort of a moot point,” he said. “Just like ISDs, public charter schools in Texas follow all state laws that apply to them.”

Charter school administrators are more concerned with how to correctly comply with the law rather than looking for ways to be against it, he said.

Mark Wiggins, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said he believes this is a way for the TEA to hold charter schools accountable. While public schools must respond to elected school boards and taxpayers, the TEA holds that role for charter schools.

“Charters need to be held to the same level of accountability as traditional public schools,” he said.

Since lawmakers passed the social studies restrictions, educators have been confused on how it should be applied.

Chloe Latham Sikes, deputy director of policy at the Intercultural Development Research Association, said one of the issues with the TEA issuing this requirement is that the agency still has not given official guidance on how to comply with the law.

Sikes also believes it is redundant as schools are already having to follow the state’s curriculum guidelines.

In documents obtained by The Texas Tribune, the TEA has been advising school administrators that teachers should just continue teaching the current curriculum until the State Board of Education revises the social studies curriculum over the next year.

“It just brings up the question, well, what is really the purpose of that [law] if there’s no state guidance to comply with?” she said.

Disclosure: Association of Texas Professional Educators and Texas Public Charter Schools Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/02/17/texas-charter-schools-law/.

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