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Rep. Ray Garofalo Jr., R-Chalmette, center, chats with other Reps during legislative action Monday May 10, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La.

During last week’s Louisiana House debate over restricting the rights of transgender teens to participate in school athletics, newly elected Rep. Laurie Schlegel, the Jefferson Republican handling the bill, was asked for a single example of this being a problem.

She answered that it happened recently in Connecticut, before jumping into a speed reading of all the states she said had passed similar bills. Schlegel then refused to take any more questions.

Actually, what happened in Connecticut was a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit claiming female athletes were put at a competitive disadvantage to women listed as male on their birth certificates. Of the 28 states considering similar legislation, only a few have turned them into law, including Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

What hasn’t been turned into law or even cleared the necessary hurdles is the tax revamp promised by Republican legislative leadership. They made a session goal of simplifying the state’s complex tax system with lower rates for all — not just special interest taxpayers represented by high-priced lobbyists in Baton Rouge.

Those promises have been sidelined, so far, by grievance politics that these days not only energize the GOP base, but core Democrats as well.

It was Chalmette Republican Rep. Ray Garofalo’s House Bill 564 banning the teaching of “divisive concepts,” which include not “assigning fault” for racially based policies and not criticizing capitalism. He made some unfortunate comments, which he took back immediately, but that led Democratic House members to withhold their necessary support on issues — such as changing taxes — that need a two-thirds majority.

It wasn’t until Wednesday, a month into the delay and 15 days from the end of the session, that House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, officially removed Garofalo from his chairmanship on the House Education committee. The previous night, conservative Republican House members, angered by the fractious nature of their near supermajority status, began by-invitation-only caucus to better exert GOP influence.

The first thing caucus chair Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, said was that tax policy, not culture wars, is the foremost interest of most House Republicans.

Still, they voted for transgender restrictions and school curricula impositions, such as requiring public schools to teach World War II and the Holocaust in greater detail as well as an emphasis on the nation’s important documents.

Not that such subjects are bad for Louisiana students to learn, but “patriotic education” is a strategy that crowds out conversations about race and its impact on American society. Louisiana educators oppose legislators dictating curriculum.

Southern legislatures since the 1920s have tried to tell educators what to teach. Evolution, for instance, was banned for three decades and even through the 1960s teachers were prevented from discussing the philosophical basis of communism, which at the time ruled half the world.

Republican-controlled legislatures are taking up measures that would ban or limit the teaching of “critical race theory” in public schools. Idaho, Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma have passed laws similar to the ones the Louisiana House advanced last week and now sit in the Senate Education Committee.

An academic concept developed in the 1970s, “critical race theory” holds that unresolved racism has become so ingrained in U.S. history and systems that laws and policies hinder minority advancement. Though the term is rarely uttered, the theory is at the root of more diverse faculty hirings and “holistic admissions” that open university doors to more minorities by placing more emphasis on grades than on test scores.

As president, Donald Trump created the 1776 Commission to counter teaching concepts based on “critical race theory” in schools. President Joe Biden dismantled that commission on his first day in office.

Still, 44% of White eighth graders — 14% of Black students — were found to have math proficiency in 2019 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. From education to housing to health care to criminal justice, disparities between White and Black people have remained pronounced and statistically evident. A reasonable argument can be made that understanding the history of racial inequities is a better use of time for Louisiana students than hearing again that Adolf Hitler was a bad man.

All of which was underscored on the House floor last week when Denham Springs Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges, who sponsored the two curriculum measures, acknowledged with “huhs” that she didn’t know about the middle passage used to transport Black people across the Atlantic to work as slaves.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.