Is Critical Race Theory coming to Washington schools? Sen. Hawkins explains what the Legislature passed

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Photo courtesy Sen. Brad Hawkins

The question of whether public schools will soon be teaching so-called Critical Race Theory has been raised in several races for local school board positions.

NCWLIFE has been unable to identify any school districts in North Central Washington that are considering adding such instruction.

But this year, Democrats in the Washington Legislature passed Senate Bill 5044 concerning training on “cultural competency, diversity, equity and inclusion.”

But what does that mean for local school districts? And does that bill require Critical Race Theory instruction in schools?

We asked 12th District Sen. Brad Hawkins, who is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.

Below is his response:

By Sen. Brad Hawkins

Senate Bill 5044 will expand existing cultural competency standards to include new “cultural competency, diversity, equity, and inclusion” standards for school districts.

These new standards – developed by non-elected agencies and organizations – will become a part of many different school district operations.

The bill also mandates trainings for school boards and staff, including dedicating one professional learning day for staff training on cultural competency, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The state only funds three professional learning days for school districts, which were phased in and paid for over multiple state budgets.

These small number of state-funded professional learning days are very important for preparation and collaboration among school staff.

Instead of adding an extra professional learning day for this bill’s purpose and funding it accordingly, the bill mandated its activities to one of the existing days. This creative structuring of the bill avoided the costs of the new trainings, which would have been significant, not to mention forcing schools to likely sacrifice other important school trainings and collaboration time in the process.

The term “Critical Race Theory” was not something I was actually familiar with until more recently. Senate Bill 5044 does not reference a definition of Critical Race Theory, but many opponents of the bill have attributed its contents to that term.

Senate Republicans offered multiple amendments to the bill with the vast majority not adopted.

One of my amendments would have eliminated the mandate for school districts to implement this policy, changing a “must” to a “may” in the bill language. Making it permissive would still have allowed some school districts to implement it, if decided upon by their elected boards.

Another amendment I proposed would have eliminated the requirement that all school districts be members of the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA), which strongly supported the bill’s passage.

It’s highly unusual that local governments of state associations be mandated by the state to be members of the association – and pay dues to the organization – but that is unfortunately the case with our state’s school districts and the Washington State School Directors’ Association.

State actions during the COVID pandemic and in recent years at the Legislature have called into question the long-held authority of our locally elected school boards.

As a former school board member myself, I took great pride in working with community members, school administrators, and board colleagues to assist the Eastmont School District during difficult times.

Local control guided my work, but many recent state actions have demonstrated an erosion of this control, including requirements of Senate Bill 5044.

More directives are likely on their way in the years ahead given the makeup of the current legislature.

Regardless of whether people support Senate Bill 5044, locally elected school boards should be allowed to seek public comment, engage in community dialogue, and make their own decisions.

In many ways, unfortunately, our communities are gradually losing their ability to guide the decisions of the school boards they elect, despite the significant taxpayer investment directed to their schools.

In my opinion, this approach to governance – more statewide mandates and less local control – is fundamentally flawed.

School districts are local governments like cities and counties, not state agencies.

It’s frustrating that the state is making so many decisions for our school boards from far away Olympia.

It’s a troubling trend.

How Senators voted on Senate Bill 5044.
How the House voted on Senate Bill 5044.