Anyone who has spent much time around the General Assembly is familiar with Alan Hoyle, even if they might not know the name. Hoyle is a Lincolnton, NC street preacher. But around Raleigh, he’s most notable for circling the General Assembly in his red truck adorned with anti-gay messaging, Bible verses, and graphic images of aborted fetuses. He’s a religious extremist and bigot. Yet a special provision tucked away in the House budget would give Alan Hoyle the authority to dictate what our schools are teaching.
Section 7.22 of the House Budget proposal is titled “Modernize Selection of Instructional Materials,” but if this provision were to become law it would return us to the stone age.
Under current law, the state is responsible for identifying textbooks that align with North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study. The state then uses its substantial purchasing power to negotiate best-in-the-nation pricing, ensuring that no schools anywhere in the country receive books for a lower price than North Carolina. Local school boards have the authority to purchase books via the state contract, purchase other instructional materials, and hear complaints from parents, teachers, and members of the community.
The House is proposing to upend this system. The efficient, statewide program for reviewing, selecting, and purchasing textbooks would be replaced with 115 district-level efforts for reviewing, selecting, and purchasing. Of course, these are the same districts whose funding has been slashed nearly 40 percent over the past decade. Many districts lack the time and expertise to carry out such detailed evaluations. The House proposal would not provide any additional funding for taking on this new responsibility.
The unfunded local burden would be greater when it comes to sex ed, or “health and safety programs.” When selecting instructional materials for these classes, local boards would be forced to conduct public hearings. They would also be required to maintain a centrally-located physical repository of all instructional materials that have been adopted or – in the case of sex ed – are even up for consideration to be adopted. District personnel would have to allow any member of the public to visit the repository to review these materials in person upon their request.
Of course, unfunded mandates that dissolve responsibilities onto local governments are simply par for the course under this General Assembly.
The real issue is how this law would allow Alan Hoyle and other fringe zealots to effectively veto any instructional materials that fail to align with their unique world view.
Under the House proposal, any member of the public could challenge the use of any instructional or supplemental materials being used in any school district. Every such challenge – no matter how spurious – would instigate a local hearing. Decisions at the local hearing could be appealed, spurring another costly hearing at the state level.
If it becomes law, this burdensome hearing and appeal process will undoubtedly be weaponized by religious extremists. Every instructional text – particularly those related to sex ed. – could be challenged by an endless string of complainants. Complainants wouldn’t even have to reside in the district or the state. These complaints could force districts to hold a never-ending series of local hearings, followed by countless trips to Raleigh to defend appeals to state authorities. The threat of endless public challenges would have a chilling effect on schools, causing them to avoid any topic deemed remotely controversial or that could potentially raise the ire of religious extremists.
Allegedly, the legislation was included in the budget at the request of Tami Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the NC Values Coalition. While she might not drive around Raleigh in a truck covered in hate-filled slogans like Hoyle, she’s equally extreme. For example, Fitzgerald believes North Carolina schools are involved in a conspiracy theory to secretly indoctrinate children “on transgenderism and sexual confusion.” Like Hoyle, Fitzgerald is an anti-gay bigot. Unlike Hoyle, however, Fitzgerald has the organizational skills and political know-how to use this process to prevent schools from presenting any information for which she disapproves.
Turning over curricular decisions to well-organized extremists would be a grave mistake. The intent is to allow the fringe elements of the NC Values Coalition to kill sex ed courses – courses that are proven to reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease. But the provision also empowers the Ku Klux Klan to challenge history lessons on the cruelties of slavery or how intentional government policies continue to shape racial disparities across a number of outcomes. Oil companies can protest the teaching of climate change. Conspiracy theorists can question anything blaming 9/11 on al Qaeda. There would literally be no limit to the number of challenges that could be filed, nor a limit on who can file such challenges. If this provision were to become law, such challenges could tie up district resources for years to come.
Of course, budget negotiations are ongoing, and Senate budget writers did not propose turning our curricular decisions over to any random extremist with a grudge. But House budget writers – Reps. Elmore, Fraley, Horn, Hurley, and Sauls – have somehow skated so far without facing hard questions about this provision. It’s time to hold them accountable for their efforts to empower extremists to kill sex ed.