ATLANTA – Republicans in the state Senate Monday defended legislation prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory in Georgia schools from criticism by Democrats that the bill would stifle honest discussion of America’s history of systemic racism.
“We’re not perfect. Our history is stained with racism,” Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, the bill’s chief sponsor, told members of the Senate Education and Youth Committee. “In no way shape or form is it my intention to prevent history being taught to students.”
Hatchett said the legislation targets nine “divisive concepts” to be prohibited from being taught not only in Georgia’s K-12 classrooms, but also in the state’s public colleges, universities and technical colleges.
The banned concepts include that any race is inherently superior or inferior to any other, that the United States is a systemically racist country or that any individual is inherently racist.
The bill would provide a process for students, teachers or parents to file a complaint if they believe the law is being violated. Failure to comply could subject an offending school or school system to lose 10% of its state funding.
The legislation is being backed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who faces a primary challenge from former U.S. Sen. David Perdue this year, prompting some opponents to argue the issue is being used to appeal to GOP base voters.
On Monday, Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, questioned whether the bill is necessary.
“Most racist theories are taught at home, not in the classroom,” he said.
Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, wondered how the legislation could be enforced without creating a “chilling effect” on teachers who already are leaving the profession in large numbers.
Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, said the bill’s aim is not to prevent the teaching of history but to avoid stereotyping Georgians as part of a group rather than as individuals.
“When you put people in groups and assume they’re a certain way or treat people a certain way, that’s what we’re trying to get away from,” he said. “We want to learn from our history. … Nothing in this bill prohibits that.”
Hatchett conceded the legislation deals with difficult issues and expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on crafting language to build more support.
“This is our first stab at it,” he said.
The committee took no public comment on the legislation during Monday’s hearing. Committee Chairman Chuck Payne, R-Dalton, said there will be an opportunity for the public to weigh in as the panel continues considering the bill.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.