Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators
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Culture Wars Besiege Public Schools: Is There an Underlying Motive for All of the Finger-Pointing?

Anti-public education legislation is sweeping the nation—fueled by the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and culminating in a renewed push for vouchers here in Texas.

Learn more about what’s happening in public education nationwide. Scan this QR code to visit our interactive timeline.

As ATPE has covered in its magazine and on its Teach the Vote advocacy blog, the battle against public schools is multifaceted. Voucher proponents are using wedge issues such as critical race theory (CRT), sexual orientation and gender identity, and school library materials to spark discontent and drum up support for legislation that would offer parents taxpayer-funded private schooling options.

Policing the profession

These highly contested bills are often proposed and passed with the promise of eliminating “indoctrination” from public school curriculum and increasing parents’ rights.

In Texas, the state education code’s “Parental Rights and Responsibilities” section already empowers parents to review instructional materials, remove their child temporarily from a class or activity that goes against their religious beliefs, and lodge complaints concerning violations of these and many other rights.

Even so, politicians have used hot-button topics and buzzwords to mobilize this demographic. Most well-known is the term “critical race theory,” which has evolved from a college-level framework examining systemic racism to an umbrella term for a wide range of content related to racerelations, with many concerns about content that suggests an individual—based on race or sex—is inherently consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, or oppressive.

Another topic that gained traction in 2022 is how educators should handle discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, dubbed by some critics (including parents and educators) the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

A lawsuit was filed three days after it was signed alleging the law violates free speech, equal protection, and due process of students and families.

Florida’s law states, in part, that “[c]lassroom instruction … on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3.” Additionally, schools will be required to notify parents of their child’s use of school health services unless there is reason to believe “that disclosure would subject the student to abuse, abandonment or neglect.”

Opponents of the law fear this stipulation could create an unsafe situation for LGBTQ+ children who have not come out to their parents.

Educators, too, expressed concern about repercussions for being a part of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally, stating that district leaders had warned them against wearing rainbows or displaying photos of same-sex spouses on their desks.

Holding schools hostage

How is such legislation enforced? One tactic that has garnered media attention is withholding crucial funding or levying financial consequences on parties that fail to comply.

For example, here in Texas, Williamson County officials threatened to withhold federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funds from Leander and Round Rock ISDs last year due to concerns over the content of school library books.

ATPE Executive Director Dr. Shannon Holmes responded in a press release that CARES Act funds are meant to address “the myriad challenges presented by the pandemic, which range from enacting safety protocols to addressing the long-term effects of school closures and remote instruction on student learning. In other words, the CARES Act has nothing to do with ongoing discussions about the content housed within school libraries.”

Politics over people

In some cases, parents, educators, and voters overall are not offered the opportunity to speak out on a bill before it advances.

To pass Texas’ version of a CRT bill in May 2021, the Texas Senate eschewed procedural rules to push the bill through in the middle of the night without public testimony. In the Summer 2022 issue of ATPE News, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell said of the move: “Regardless of your political affiliation or beliefs about the merits of those bills, all educators and voters should be appalled by the abuse of process, neglect of transparency, and obvious disdain for educators’ input on major education legislation.”

Montana’s attorney general bypassed that state’s Legislature in issuing an opinion that CRT should not be taught in schools. In contrast with Texas, attorney general opinions carry the weight of law in Montana.

Although such legislation and rulings have succeeded in Texas and elsewhere, other states have fended them off. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed Senate Bill 58, a bill establishing a parents’ bill of rights. Kelly said the bill was about “politics, not parents.”

Kelly stated: “Over one hundred Kansas parents testified against this bill. It would create more division in our schools and would be costly. Money that should be spent in the classroom would end up being spent in the courtroom.” Kelly pledged to work with her state’s Legislature on a bipartisan bill to give parents a seat at the table without hurting school funding or exacerbating teachers’ challenges.

Common ground

These ongoing battles underscore the need for educators to be proactive in safeguarding their careers as they navigate the curriculum-related legislation.

No matter an educator’s leanings, one thing is certain: They should not be threatened, silenced, or outright ignored. In its member-written and -approved legislative program, ATPE has adopted an educator speech and political involvement position in response to the attack on educators’ rights to free speech. The position states: “ATPE opposes undue restrictions that would limit the ability of educators to express their political views.”

Learn more about the attacks on public education stemming from this ongoing culture war in our interactive timeline at

Author: Jennifer Tuten