Reworking Texas H.B. 3979, the pathbreaking law barring protest civics and Critical Race Theory (CRT) from K-12 education, is near the top of the agenda for the special legislative session now underway in Austin. Democratic legislators fleeing Texas to break the quorum are grabbing national headlines, yet the lines dividing Texas conservatives may be just as important a story.
The Texas special session is considering two very different bills, each of which revises and expands H.B. 3979. One bill greatly improves and strengthens the original ban on protest civics and CRT. The other bill significantly weakens the pathbreaking Texas CRT/civics law, pulling it well to the left. Which bill will Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick support? I wish I could say the stronger and more conservative measure, but that is by no means clear. The test now faced by both Abbott and Patrick is complicated by the fact that two Republican candidates, Allen West and Don Huffines, are challenging Abbot for the governorship by running to his right.
We tend to think of Texas Republicans as a band of rock-ribbed conservatives, but matters are not so simple. Until recently, the Texas legislature was controlled by a coalition of Democrats allied with moderate Republicans. Texas conservatives often complain that their state’s Republican leaders fight too little and fold too quickly. That is precisely the case being made by West and Huffines in their challenge to Abbott.
At the other end of the Republican spectrum, we find the Texas Federation of Republican Women (TFRW). TFRW is closely aligned with iCivics, a leftist civics group that actually supports CRT (and whose staffers privately contribute exclusively to Democrats). TFRW has pushed to weaken H.B. 3979 by gutting its protections against protest civics. Reportedly, TFRW even called on Abbott to veto H.B. 3979, a shocking step for an ostensibly Republican group to take at a moment when conservatives across the country are uniting to take on CRT.
The first of the two CRT/civics bills being considered in the special session, H.B. 178, is offered by Representative Steve Toth, the original sponsor of H.B. 3979. Toth’s H.B. 178 fixes the technical problems with the original bill, then greatly strengthens it by adding transparency requirements. Those requirements give the anti-CRT provisions real teeth. Teachers will have to identify and post links to all of their teaching materials. That will force textbooks, hand-outs, and other material violating the anti-CRT provisions out into the open. It would also potentially subject teachers or administrators who mislead parents by withholding CRT materials from posting, to significant consequences. If you doubt that these transparency provisions are needed, recall that many teachers have promised to preach CRT to their students, even if that violates the law.
The other measure, S.B. 3, is vastly weaker and more troubling. Not only does S.B. 3 lack the transparency provisions essential to enforcing the anti-CRT law, it includes other provisions that would allow protest civics to sneak back into the classroom. Like the original Texas CRT/Civics law, S.B. 3 prevents schools from requiring extracurricular political protest and lobbying as part of coursework. Yet S.B. 3 creates a huge opening to infuse left-biased protest-civics lessons into the Texas curriculum. Students may not be given course credit for their extracurricular protests and lobbying activity, but under S.B. 3, they will very likely be pushed toward leftist political activity anyway during the school day. On top of that, an ambiguous “service” provision may create a loophole that authorizes at least some kinds of politicized after-school “service learning” with activist political groups.
It gets worse. S.B. 3 mandates course-work in “media literacy,” the new favorite of the leftist civics lobby. Supposedly, media-literacy curricula teach students to “identify propaganda.” The so-called media-literacy material I’ve seen, however, is itself something like propaganda for the Democratic Party’s view of “fake news.” Media-literacy curricula generally say little to nothing about the dangers of media bias — especially leftist bias. They also hold out mainstream media fact-checkers as paragons of accuracy. Typical media-literacy lessons also subtly direct students away from, say, conservative bloggers and toward mainstream-media sources instead. The so-called media-literacy provision of S.B. 3 alone would be a disaster for Texas schools.
S.B. 3 shows the unmistakable fingerprints of the TFRW and its leftist ally, iCivics. The troubling provisions in S.B. 3 all come out of earlier bills rejected by the legislature but supported by TFRW and iCivics.
You might think that nationally reputed conservatives such as Abbott and Patrick would favor the tough House bill over the weaker and left-tinged Senate offering, especially at a moment when conservatives everywhere have plunged into the battle to save K-12 education. Sadly, the opposite is likely the case. Patrick controls the Texas Senate, and it’s unlikely that S.B. 3 would have been introduced at all without buy-in from both Patrick and Abbott. TFRW has a great deal of influence with both Abbott and Patrick, and therein lies the challenge for Texas conservatives. Liberal-leaning Republican groups such as TFRW have a lot of influence, especially at the top, and this is what prompts candidates like West and Huffines to enter the fray.
The outcome of the contest between H.B. 178 — which adds real enforcement to the anti-CRT provisions of the new Texas law and keeps the bar on protest civics strong — and S.B. 3 — which not only weakens the protections against leftist indoctrination but even abets and advances such indoctrination — will tell us a lot about the strength of conservatism in Texas.
It would be instructive to see West and Huffines weigh in on the two bills. If West and Huffines endorse the tougher H.B. 178, but Abbott and Patrick deliver the lame and leftist S.B. 3 instead, the governor and lieutenant governor will have handed their rivals a powerful campaign issue, gift-wrapped and tied with a bow. If, on the other hand, all four men back H.B. 178, Abbott and Patrick will have proven that they do stand strong on what is arguably now the conservative base’s priority number one. In short, civics class is now in session. There will be a test.