Damakant Jayshi

Wisconsin on Thursday became the 17th state aiming to restrict how race and racism are taught in the state’s schools and institutions of higher learning. Failure to abide by the provisions in the bills will result in loss of state funding.

The bills mirror other country-wide efforts from Republican elected representatives to change election-related laws that aim to restrict voting in the name of elections integrity and security – there is no credible evidence of widespread vote or voter-related fraud; instead, these maneuvers are based on falsehoods fanned in part by former president Donald Trump. The GOP lawmakers now aim to fix what they view as motivated, and incorrect, teaching of history.

The race-related proposal, if passed into law, would bar educational institutions – from public schools to university – from teaching critical race theory concepts like systemic racism in society. In addition to denying state funds, the bills would prohibit local governments and state agencies from training employees on race and racism.

School administrators and other state representatives criticized the latest GOP initiative in Madison.

“I would assume most school boards would prefer to have the autonomy to make curriculum decisions at the local level,” Pat McKee, president of Wausau School District (WSD) board, told Wausau Pilot & Review. Officials from Mosinee School District and D.C. Everest Area School District declined to comment.

Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) also took issues with the legislation.

“It’s disappointing that the bill authors chose to introduce this legislation that was copied from another state and which directly contradicts other bills the Legislature has worked on in a bipartisan fashion,” Rep. Shankland said, adding “the Wisconsin Legislature just passed a bill into law requiring middle and high school social studies classes to teach about the Holocaust and other genocides.”

Wausau Pilot & Review reached out to Representative Pat Snyder (R-Schofield) for his comments on the rationale behind his party’s move. Despite multiple attempts, he or his office is yet to respond. Wausau Pilot & Review will update the story if and when Snyder responds.

However, other Republicans defended the move.

This legislation treats students as equal under the law,” Rep. Chuck Wichgers of Muskego, one of the bills’ chief sponsors, said during a news conference, according to The Associated Press (AP). “Children should not face state-sanctioned discrimination or psychological distress in an educational environment based on immutable characteristics.” 

When asked how the school board would respond if the measure became law and the funding to school district cut off, WSD’s McKee said, “Given the current political landscape in Madison, there is no reason to believe this legislation will ever be signed into law.”

Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, could veto the bills. Although he has not yet responded to the latest bills, Evers recently threatened to veto Republicans’ K-12 school spending plan.

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.