House backs controversial teacher-prep bill

Supporters say the measure would keep identity politics out of teacher-prep courses; Democratic members likened the bill to academic censorship.

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  • | 4:20 p.m. March 1, 2024
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TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Friday passed a measure that supporters say is designed to keep “identity politics” out of teacher preparation programs that lead to educators getting professional certificates — as Democratic members likened the bill to academic censorship.

Members of the Republican-dominated House voted 81-31 to pass the controversial measure (HB 1291), as a Senate version of the bill (SB 1372) is ready for consideration by the full chamber. 

Under the proposal, teacher-prep programs at colleges and universities could not include instruction that would teach “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.”

A House analysis of the bill said that there are 57 “initial” teacher preparation programs in Florida at 10 state universities, 19 state colleges and 28 private colleges and universities.

House Democrats gave impassioned arguments against the bill, with multiple members saying that the measure threatens to jeopardize educators’ ability to teach the realities of history.

“This bill expands academic censorship of concepts that may make some uncomfortable. It’s time to do away with fragility. It’s time to stop rewriting history to make one feel better about it. And most importantly, it’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, D-Ocoee.

The measure also would require that such programs could “not distort significant historical events” when training teachers. The restrictions in the bill that would apply to teacher preparation programs also would apply to programs designed to enable prospective school leaders to earn certificates.

The bill came after the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022 approved a measure that restricted the way that certain race-related concepts can be taught in schools.  

Rep. Johanna Lopez, an Orlando Democrat who is a former school board member and teacher, said the measure approved by the House Friday would compound existing difficulties for teachers.

“I oppose this bill because it is going to exacerbate the fears our teachers and instructional leaders have on how to teach real history,” Lopez said.

Supporters of the measure, meanwhile, have argued that the proposal would prevent teacher preparation programs from indoctrinating educators. House bill sponsor Berny Jacques, a Republican from Seminole, said Friday that there are “still loopholes” to enforcing existing restrictions on instruction.

“You can’t really enforce it … when you have the educators themselves who are being indoctrinated along the way. They are being indoctrinated when they are coming up as teachers and now they are being indoctrinated in their continuing education courses, in their training courses. So it still seeps through. And this is what this bill is about,” Jacques said. 

Rep. Alex Rizo, R-Hialeah, contended that the text of the bill has been misunderstood by critics. 

“I heard the term erasing history, and I at no point read erasing history in the content of the bill,” Rizo said during debate on the House floor Friday.


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