Bill to keep “identity politics” out of teacher-prep programs will be considered by the full Florida House

Art teacher in a school classroom with students
Teacher and students. By Drazen Zigic via iStock for WMNF News.

By Ryan Dailey ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that seeks to keep what supporters describe as “identity politics” out of teacher-preparation programs is ready for consideration by the Florida House, as critics warn it will stifle accurate teaching of history.

The Republican-controlled House Education & Employment Committee voted 12-5 along party lines to approve the proposal (HB 1291), which involves programs that lead to educators getting professional certificates.

The bill, in part, would require that teacher-preparation courses offered by colleges and universities do not “distort significant historical events or include a curriculum or instruction that teaches identity politics,” or be “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.”

Bill sponsor John Snyder, R-Stuart characterized the measure as an effort to combat “divisiveness.”

“I think it is all of our responsibilities to say, how do we continue to move away from this era of identity politics and the divisiveness that has swept our country,” Snyder said.

But critics of the measure, including some teachers, argued that the proposal is a distraction from the Legislature taking steps to improve education.

Matthew Pinson, who said he is a high-school English teacher, said the bill amounts to a “culture war” issue.

“This is a distraction. Stop wasting our time, and vote no on this. We need real solutions, funding support, perspective and humanity for these kids. I’ll keep teaching the truth. Because the honor that I am trusted with in this community drives me. The children are my priority. Stop the culture-war distraction, and make them yours too,” Pinson said.

“Thank you sir, I believe that is what the bill is meant to do,” committee Chair Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, replied.

Rep. Alex Rizo, a Hialeah Republican who is a former educator, argued that the measure would help ensure teacher quality.

“It is my opinion as an educator and also as a state legislator that our responsibility is to create and craft a program, statewide, that will give us the best possible teachers and administrators and support staff for our kids. To make them critical thinkers. So, yes, I do agree with someone that said, let’s stop the distractions,” Rizo said.

Another part of the bill would require that teacher-preparation programs “afford candidates the opportunity to think critically, achieve mastery of academic program content, learn instructional strategies, and demonstrate competence.”

“Let’s make sure that teachers, all educators, all support staff look at students and see a student,” Rizo added.

But Rep. Patricia Williams, D-Pompano Beach, and other Democrats argued the measure would suppress teachers’ ability to do their jobs.

“It ties the hands of our teachers. It does not give them the opportunity to think outside the box. You want our teachers to be robots and teach what you want them to teach. That’s what this bill does. Another thing this bill does — it divides us as a people,” Williams said.

Rep. Marie Woodson, D-Hollywood, said the bill “clearly restricts the ability of teachers to really teach, to deliver accurate teaching, honest teaching.”

The Senate Education Appropriations Committee is scheduled Thursday to take up the Senate version of the bill (SB 1372).

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