September 28, 2021

Wisconsin has become the first state in the nation to pass powerful new Academic Transparency legislation to bring sunlight in—and take politics out—of its K-12 classrooms.

Based on the Goldwater Institute’s model policy language, and with the support of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), the Wisconsin State Senate and State Assembly today passed mirror bills establishing parents’ rights to know what is being taught in their schools by requiring school districts to post on a publicly accessible portion of their website a listing of the specific learning materials being used at each school.

Spearheaded by Senator Duey Stroebel and Representative Elijah Behnke and co-sponsored by more than 25 Wisconsin lawmakers—including the State Legislature’s education committee chairs Senator Alberta Darling and Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt—SB 463 and its companion bill AB488 passed overwhelmingly (19-12 in the Senate, 60-38 in the Assembly).

Under the legislation, prospective parents will no longer have to guess and gamble about whether a nearby school is informally slipping into the classroom content such as the New York Times 1619 Project, or assigning literature like Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist, which tells students, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.”  Instead, as noted by Rep. Behnke, this new Academic Transparency legislation “allows families to make informed decisions about their children’s education experience.” Indeed, for the first time, parents will have the ability to identify and distinguish between schools pushing radical politics versus those affirming core academic principles before they’re forced to choose where to send their children. 

Opponents of the legislation found almost no objection too outlandish to level against the new measure, including declaring during the final votes that “this bill censures history” and that its sponsors “are taking away local control of school boards,” despite the fact the bill allows school boards and teachers to continue selecting whatever curriculum materials they wish. The real problem, it seems, is that now they will have to disclose them.

As Max Eden of the American Enterprise Institute observed of Academic Transparency even before Wisconsin’s latest votes, “This proposal is starting to catch fire across the country. It has been introduced in Texas and Illinois, and passed in the Arizona State Senate and the North Carolina State House…[and] earlier this month, Wyoming became the latest state to take up this proposal.”

Now, with the passage of SB463, Wisconsin lawmakers have officially set the bar high for other states looking to empower parents and contain the outbreak of politically radical, racially divisive content flooding our K-12 school system.

With Academic Transparency in place, no longer will parents like Nicole Solas of Rhode Island be forced to navigate a maze of public records requests—and endure threats of retaliatory litigation by her school board and teachers union—simply to know what her incoming kindergarten daughter could expect to see in the classroom. No longer will major school systems like the Madison Metropolitan School District be able to insist on thousands of dollars to disclose to the public the materials being used in just a handful of its classrooms.

It now falls to Wisconsin’s Governor, Democrat Tony Evers, to sign this legislation and ensure it becomes law, rather than actively blocking parents from knowing what is being taught in their schools. And more broadly, it now rests with state lawmakers across the country to bring the same level of transparency to the parents and constituents of their own communities.

To learn more about Academic Transparency, see Academic Transparency to Protect Students from Radical Politics in K-12 Education, visit https://goldwaterinstitute.org/academictransparency/, or contact Heather Curry at hcurry@goldwaterinstitute.org.

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