BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Senate on Monday approved legislation aimed at preventing public schools, charter schools and universities from “indoctrinating” students through teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.
Lawmakers voted 28-7 to send the bill to Republican Gov. Brad Little. It passed the House last week.
Some GOP lawmakers are concerned belief systems will be forced on Idaho students, and want legislation addressing that concern before they will vote to approve a logjam of education budget bills that must be passed before the Legislature can wrap up the session, now third-longest in state history.
The bill approved Monday prohibits teachers from forcing students into belief systems that claim a group of people as defined by sex, race, ethnicity or religion are inferior or superior to others.
The legislation would also prevent educators from making students “affirm, adopt or adhere to” belief systems claiming individuals of any race, sex, ethnicity, religion or national origin are responsible for past actions done by members of the same group.
The bill contains the “same principles that have been the foundation of the Civil Rights movement,” said Republican Sen. Jim Rice in arguing in favor of the bill. “It’s that every individual should be treated equally under the law, that no one should be compelled to believe something just because someone else does.”
Opponents of the measure said Idaho already has antidiscrimination protections in place, and all the measure will do is stifle classroom discussions about difficult topics that will leave Idaho students lacking knowledge and understanding. But backers said that was not the legislation’s intent.
“This bill does not intend to prohibit discussion in an open and free way,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Carl Crabtree. “It is a preventative measure. It does not indicate that we have a rampant problem in Idaho. But we don’t want to get one.”
The legislation comes amid a national reckoning on how race and racism influences policing and other realms of American life. Republican Idaho lawmakers are concerned federal authorities could force belief systems on Idaho students through school curricula — calling the ideas often found in critical race theory “contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being” of the state.
As a result, GOP lawmakers have been holding up crucial education budget bills until some type of bill addressing what can be taught in schools is passed. The House earlier this month killed a $1.1 billion teacher pay bill for that reason.
“It’s a hostage situation to get our budget bills through,” said Democratic Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, who voted against the measure. “I think that’s a dangerous path for us to go down, when we’re passing policy that isn’t needed because we can’t get our appropriation bills through.”
Backers contended the bill is an antidiscrimination measure intended to spell out expectations for Idaho schools and universities following an executive order by President Joe Biden issued in January titled Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities. The administration followed up last week with proposed federal rules that some Idaho lawmakers view as a threat to the state because federal dollars are attached to the policy.
The bill was fast-tracked by Senate leaders, suspending Senate rules to debate the bill about an hour after it cleared a Senate panel. Roy Glen, a retired Boise State University professor, testified before the panel about the bill’s potential problems in the classroom.
“I think this bill could have some really chilling effect on what is taught on the job of a professor to encourage students to critically examine their own beliefs and opinions, and to really develop the kind of mind and the kind skills that are going to let them thrive and be good citizens,” he said.
Last year, then-President Donald Trump cracked down on diversity training at federal agencies that employed critical race theory. The theme has been picked up in Idaho. Trump carried the state in November’s presidential election with 64 percent of the vote.
Opponents of the measure said critical race theory, though contained in the bill, wasn’t defined, and pressed without success for the state’s definition. For some, the theory is simply looking at how race and racism have shaped the nation. But for other lawmakers, it’s seen as an attempt to pit various groups against each other.
“Critical race theory, though we’re not debating that topic specifically, tends to undermine the notion that people are individually responsible for their own actions,” said Republican Sen. Steven Thayn, who backed the bill.
The Idaho State Board of Education, which sets policy for Idaho public education, didn’t take a position on the legislation.