Senate panel advances bill that would require Pa. schools to post curriculum, book titles online

Democrats on the 11-member panel, four in total, unanimously opposed the proposal

By: - October 18, 2021 2:05 pm

Sen. Scott Martin, R-York, speaks during a Senate Education Committee meeting on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. (Screenshot)

A so-called school transparency bill, which would require districts to post all curriculum and course material online, is making its way through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Senate Education Committee voted along party lines Monday to advance a previously approved House bill, authored by a GOP lawmaker, mandating that Pennsylvania’s schools make all instructional materials, techniques, and syllabi publicly available, beginning the 2022-23 school year.

If course materials are updated, a school’s chief administrator or a designee would be required to update the curriculum online within 30 days of its approval. The bill applies to school districts, intermediate units, career and technical schools, charter programs.

The committee’s chairperson, Sen. Scott Martin, R-York, tacked on an amendment, which the committee approved, clarifying that schools should post a course syllabus or a written summary, the state academic standard for every class, as well as the titles or links to textbooks.

Democrats on the 11-member panel, four in total, unanimously opposed the proposal, arguing that it will cause an additional burden for local school officials and fuel ongoing debates over how kids learn about race in school.

The proposal sponsored by Rep. Andrew Lewis, R-Dauphin, comes as school boards across the commonwealth, and the country, have faced contentious meetings with parents over COVID-19 policies and critical race theory — a concept typically taught in college that examines how race and law intercept.

“Right here, we have an unfunded mandate for school districts who are already under a lot of pressure, and this is also part of a larger movement to pit the public against teachers and politicize education while undermining the teaching of accurate history and racial and cultural competence,” Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said.

State law already requires public schools to allow parents and guardians access to their child’s curriculum, academic standards, instructional materials, and assessment techniques by request. But lawmakers who support the bill say it could save the public’s time if the information is available online.

“It’s my hope that this legislation will actually begin to heal some of the rifts that we see, not only across Pennsylvania but across the country,” Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Mercer, said, arguing that this measure would create a “partnership” between school districts and parents “with confidence and understanding and knowing what’s being taught to our kids and our students.”

Parents, she added, should be part of that process.

Lewis has denied allegations that the bill connects to recent debates over “critical race theory.” He and Republican colleagues argue the proposal gives added transparency to school districts and lets parents know what’s taught in their children’s classrooms.

However, an April Facebook post from Lewis outlined a more detailed reason behind the legislation.

“Parents need to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to education, not some out-of-state textbook publisher teaching heaven knows what (hint: anti-American socialism) to our students,” he wrote.

The socialism reference, Lewis said, is because: “There is some level of philosophical indoctrination in our schools that, really, there is no place for.”

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives approved the legislation in a 110-89 vote earlier this month. If sent to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk, it’s likely to be met with a gubernatorial veto.

“It’s an underfunded mandate and a potentially harmful means to incite further resistance to ensuring all learners have access to accuracies in history and exposure to content reflecting multiple student identities,” Lyndsay Kensinger, a Wolf spokesperson, told the Capital-Star in an email.

She added: “To prepare our Pennsylvania learners for a global marketplace, they require the ability to learn about others and their experiences. That should not be a political discussion if we are truly honoring human dignity.”

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