Tennessee education officials recently released guidance that could empower the state to slash district budgets by millions over an ill-conceived ban on critical race theory in schools. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a law in May allowing Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn to withhold funds from schools that teach specific aspects of "racism, sexism, bias, and other social issues," the education reporting site Chalkbeat Tennessee reported. Following the ban, the state got more specific and spelled out the exact consequences districts could face.
The steepest penalty is withholding $5 million in state funding from districts if the Tennessee Department of Education finds that a local education agency or public charter school "knowingly violated" the critical race theory ban five or more times. On a first violation, a district could lose $1 million in state funding, according to state guidelines earlier covered by The Washington Post.
"The average expenditure for a K-12 student in Tennessee public schools was roughly $10,000 for the 2018-2019 academic year, according to the state comptroller’s office, so a penalty of $1 million could translate to a year’s worth of education spending on 100 students," Post writer Andrew Jeong wrote.
Included in the prohibited instruction concepts the state lists are ones that promote:
a. One (1) race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
b. An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged ,racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;
c. An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment becaus e of the individual’s race or sex;
d. An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex;
e. An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
f. An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex;
g. A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex;
h. This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist;
i. Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government;2
j. Promoting division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people;
k. Ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex;
l. The rule of law does not exist, but instead is series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups;
m. All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; or
n. Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.
Tennessee is one of several states including Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas that have acted to ban critical race theory in schools. The theory is a framework for interpreting law that maintains racism's reach has had particularly harmful effects on the legal system and laws that govern our society. Republicans have linked the theory to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ "1619 Project," which correctly asserts that “no aspect of the country” has been “untouched by the years of slavery” that followed the first slave ship’s arrival to the coastal port of the English colony of Virginia in August of 1619.
Republican state Sen. Mike Moon delivered a letter to the governor signed by 67 members of the Missouri General Assembly urging the governor to issue an executive order banning both critical race theory and the 1619 Project. “Since the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is within the Executive Branch of Missouri government, the governor has the power to exercise authority over the department,” Moon wrote in his letter. “I believe the destructive nature of this type of teaching demands immediate executive action until the Legislature can address it.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called critical race theory "un-American" during a press conference earlier this month. “Teaching children that this is the most exceptional nation in the world is incredibly important, but political commentary is not something we need to be teaching children," Lee said. Critical race theory is un-American. It fundamentally puts groups of people above the sanctity of the individual, which is a founding principle of this nation."
Fox News has used the phrase critical race theory 1,300 times in what amounts to less than four months, Brookings Institution writers Rashawn Ray and Alexandra Gibbons said in an article questioning why states are banning the framework. They pointed out in the piece that none of the states that have passed bans in response to GOP branding of what critical race theory is even mention the words “critical race theory” except Idaho. “The legislations mostly ban the discussion, training, and/or orientation that the U.S. is inherently racist as well as any discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, and oppression,” Ray and Gibbons wrote. “These parameters also extend beyond race to include gender lectures and discussions.”
They called the legislative response to the framework "a method for continuing to roll back racial progress regarding everything from voting rights to police reform … This is a horrible idea and does an injustice to our kids," the writers said. "Laws forbidding any teacher or lesson from mentioning race/racism, and even gender/sexism, would put a chilling effect on what educators are willing to discuss in the classroom and provide cover for those who are not comfortable hearing or telling the truth about the history and state of race relations in the United States."
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