The Georgia House passed three controversial Republican education bills on Friday, despite fierce opposition from Democrats.
HB 1: Eliminate free speech zones
HB 1 would eliminate “free speech zones” on college campuses. It would also limit colleges’ abilities to prevent speakers on campus. The bill says that students, faculty members, and guests should be able to express free speech wherever they want on campus. Critics of the bill say it could provide a platform for hate speech. But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville) said it is necessary.
“The cure to overcoming bad ideas is not to limit speech, but it’s to increase the amount of speech,” he said.
Democrats mentioned that the language of the bill contradicts another bill on the floor that deals with educational content.
“Today, you will also vote on a bill that limits the speech of our teachers in the K through 12 system by banning them from teaching divisive concepts,” Rep. Jasmine Clark (D-Lilburn) said. “So now you are being asked in this bill, to give individuals who do not pay tuition, who are not affiliated with the college, unrestricted access to teach those divisive concepts to the students.”
HB 1 passed 93 to 62.
HB 1084: Teaching racial history
The House General Assembly also heard HB 1084, which would prevent teachers from promoting “divisive concepts” in schools.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville), says that divisive concepts include teaching that one race is superior, that a person is inherently racist because of their race, that the United States is fundamentally racist, and that a person should be responsible for the actions of other members of their race. Several of the concepts allude to critical race theory, which is not taught in any Georgia schools.
Wade directly addressed the contrast between HB 1 and HB 1084.
“I look at the world today and I see the political polarization that we have,” he said. “And there is a distinction between K-12 and how we approach history and then how we allow the younger adults in a college setting to have the freedom of speech to discuss those things.”
Rep. Doreen Carter (D-Lithonia) expressed concern that the bill would cause teachers to shy away from controversial topics.
“We don’t even have a system in place in this legislation to support the teacher,” she said. “And then what happens to our children? They have hard questions. This teacher is not going to answer their questions, because they don’t want to violate this code.”
Rep. Matt Wilson (D-Brookhaven), a former teacher, said that the bill harms both teachers and students.
“All this bill does is muzzle our teachers and make them into a straw man for political gain from the true divisive voices in our communities,” he said. “I say this to you as a former sixth grade teacher: There is no better place to discuss difficult concepts and events than in the classroom, a safe space for our students, where our trained educators can also teach them the skills to discuss, consider questions, and even reject ideas — but to do so in a healthy and respectful manner.”
The bill passed 92 to 63.
HB 1178: Parental review, challenge of curricula
Lawmakers in the House also debated HB 1178, which would create a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” in schools. The bill, also sponsored by Bonner, would allow parents to review curriculum taught to their children and file complaints if they disagree with the content. Supporters of the bill said that it was necessary to increase parents’ involvement in schools, but critics said it could hinder teachers’ ability to effectively teach their students.
HB 1178 passed 98 to 68.
This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.