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Bill targeting critical race theory in school vetoed in Arizona

Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs said a bill that aimed to ban the graduate-level framework from public schools was “based on fear-mongering and unfounded accusations.”

PHOENIX (CN) — A bill looking to rid Arizona public schools of critical race theory died on the governor's desk Thursday afternoon. 

Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs vetoed SB1305, which would make it illegal for schools to teach students to judge the character, morality, or intellect of another based on race or ethnicity, or to teach that individuals bear responsibility for the past actions of their race, or to teach that qualities like a hard work ethic are racist.

“It is time to stop utilizing students and teachers in culture wars based on fear-mongering and unfounded accusations,” Hobbs wrote in an open letter to Senate President Warren Peterson, a Republican from Tucson. “Bills like SB1305 only serve to divide and antagonize.

“I urge the Legislature to work with me on the real issues affecting Arizona schools: underfunded classrooms, a growing educator retention crisis, and school buildings in need of repair and replacement.”

The bill, sponsored by state Senator J.D. Mesnard, a Republican from Chandler, would have imposed fines on teachers accused of teaching what Republicans call critical race theory. It left the Senate with full Republican support, on a 16-12 vote with two abstentions. It passed the House 31-29, along party lines. 

“I’m very disappointed in the veto,” Mesnard said in a phone call. “Perhaps not surprised, but disappointed. Her veto message came across to me as a slap in the face to parents who brought some legitimate concerns forward.”

Despite little evidence in Arizona public schools of the graduate-level academic and legal framework, which comes directly from the writings of social activists and civil rights leaders like Kimberle Crenshaw, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and W.E.B Du Bois, Republicans and other bill supporters insist its values are being taught and need to be snuffed out.

State Representative Beverly Pingerelli, a Republican from Peoria, sponsored an identical bill, HB2458, in the House. It made its way past a House education committee in late January before it was replaced by SB1305. 

“Governor Hobbs’ veto sends a disturbing message that she is willing to allow racially divisive curriculum to be intentionally taught in Arizona classrooms,” Pingerelli said in a statement by House Republicans. “This sort of ugly, prejudicial ideology presents a distorted and destructive history and worldview that exacerbates racial tension and anxiety within our children and society.”

Critical race theory, which has been used as a catch-all to rebuke diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in schools across the nation, doesn’t suggest that one race is better than another or advocate for treating people differently based on their race. The Legal Defense Fund writes that critical race theory recognizes the effects of racism in education, housing, employment, health care, law enforcement and more aren’t just a result of individual bias and prejudice, but also stem from laws, policies and institutions that uphold racial inequalities.  

Legislation similar to this has been tried in the past. Its language was included in the proposed budget in 2021, which was shot down by the Arizona Supreme Court for including multiple bills that weren’t related to budget procedures, violating the constitution. House Republicans tried again to pass it in 2022, but it never made it to the governor’s desk.

Republicans don't have the two-thirds majority required to override the veto in the Senate or the House, so the bill is dead. Mesnard said he’s unsure if he’ll try the legislation again next year.

“I think it needs to be confronted,” he said. “I’m gonna assess what is possible in terms of who is governor right now. It’s probably too early to say.”

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