Kentucky lawmakers focused on civics on Thursday as they pushed forward Republican-backed legislation stemming from the national critical race theory debate.
The bill authorized the Senate Education Committee, moving to the GOP-dominated full Senate.
Tackling the politically charged issue, Republican Senator Max Wise said he introduced the measure “with the intention of unifying.” Saying there’s a general “knowledge gap” about civics, Wise said the bill aims to educate Kentucky students about the fundamentals of the country.
“Let us season our state’s academic standards with American principles and encourage teachers to help students explore original source documents, analyze historical and current issues and controversies,” he said during the committee hearing.
Wise, the chairman of the committee, said he agreed to make changes to the measure after receiving “valuable feedback” on concerns about the original measure. Instead of focusing on what shouldn’t be taught, it prioritizes what should be taught, Wise said.
He said he proposed his bill in response to growing national concerns about education that have “escalated into hostile monologues” and “state legislation based on a negative ‘don’t list’.”
The bill allows teachers to teach lessons about historical events while requiring that lessons remain consistent with a set of American principles.
In opposing the bill, Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas said Wise was well-meaning, but he stressed he viewed the measure as unnecessary.
“I don’t know why we’re creating this critical race theory boogeyman, and now we’re into it here in Kentucky, because we don’t teach critical race theory here in our K-12 schools. 12th grade,” Thomas said. .
Thomas said it was important not to “whitewash the story” and to “tell it as it is”.
“History is very valuable,” he said. “It teaches us about the good and the bad of our past. And it provides us with knowledge and insight into what we need to do better.
Critical race theory is an academic framework that examines how racism has shaped public policy and institutions such as the legal system, and how these have perpetuated white dominance in society. Several GOP-led states have banned or restricted the teaching of critical race theory or similar concepts through laws or administrative actions.
Meanwhile, a Kentucky House committee on Thursday advanced a proposed ballot measure that could potentially give local governments more leeway to generate tax revenue to pay for services.
The proposed constitutional amendment, which passes the entire House, would go to a ballot for voters across the state to decide whether it wipes out the legislature.
The measure, if added to the Kentucky Constitution, would ease tight restrictions on the types of taxes city and county governments can levy to meet their obligations.
“There’s no way to really do comprehensive tax reform if we don’t go to the local side like we go to the state side,” said Republican Rep. Michael Meredith, the proposal’s lead sponsor.
Proponents of the proposal say the current restrictions force local governments to rely heavily on property taxes and payroll taxes. These limitations put Kentucky communities at a competitive disadvantage in trying to attract new business, they said.
Retailers have raised concerns about the proposal, fearing the constitutional change could eventually lead to new sales taxes that could hurt their businesses.
If the measure reaches the ballot and wins ratification, the Legislature will follow by creating a new framework for local governments in setting tax policy, Meredith said.
“It’s not going to create a Wild West of taxing local governments,” said JD Chaney of the Kentucky League of Cities.
Education legislation is Senate Bill 138. Local tax legislation is House Bill 475.