Pennsylvania governor vetoes measure aimed at increasing transparency in school curriculum

Bill was passed amid a backlash from parents over critical race theory, graphic sexual books, sex education and political indoctrination.
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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf, November 19, 2015, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
(Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Pennsylvania Conference for Women)

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed legislation Wednesday that would have given parents a closer look at what their children are learning in school.

Wolf argued in his veto message the requirements in House Bill 1332 that public schools give parents online access to class materials is “overly burdensome” and claimed ulterior motives behind the “dangerous and harmful imposition.”

“Under the guise of transparency, this legislation politicizes what is being taught in our public schools,” Wolf wrote. “State regulations adopted by the State Board of Education already require that public schools provide parents and guardians with course curriculum and instructional materials upon request. In addition, textbooks are adopted by school boards in meetings open to the public.

“Therefore, requiring all public schools to publish on their website the details of every textbook, course syllabus or written summary of each course, and the relevant academic standards for each course is not only duplicative, but overly burdensome.”

Wolf said the “onerous requirements of this bill fall on educators” who should be focused on more important issues, and pointed to unnamed “shareholder groups” in opposition.

“This legislation is a thinly veiled attempt to restrict truthful instruction and censor content reflecting various cultures, identities and experiences,” Wolf wrote. “My Administration is committed to creating a safe learning environment for all students, and we will not take part in this dangerous and harmful imposition.”

The Republican-controlled General Assembly approved HB 1332 last week amid a backlash from parents in many public school districts across the country over issues including critical race theory, graphic sexual books, sex education curriculum and political indoctrination.

Rep. Andrew Lewis, R-Dauphin, said he introduced the bill at the behest of parents who were surprised by what their children were learning in school. The bill would have required Pennsylvania schools to post a basic outline of curriculum online for public review, and specifically tasked top administrators – not educators – with maintaining the information.

“Beginning with the 2022-23 school year and each year thereafter, a school entity shall post an internet link or title for every textbook used by the school entity, a course syllabus or a written summary of each instructional course and the state academic standards for each instructional course offered by the school entity on its publicly accessible internet website,” the bill read.

The legislation would have applied to “a school district, intermediate unit, area career and technical school, charter school, cyber charter school or regional charter school.”

Lewis responded to Wolf’s veto in a Facebook video.

“I have heard from parents who did not know what their children would be learning in school until the homework was brought home, and they were surprised and offended by that material," he said. "I’ve heard from parents who have had to file right to know requests when they requested to find out what their kids were learning in school or what their kids were going to be taught in school.

“Pennsylvania regulation already requires that school districts make available curricula to parents. The problem is, it doesn’t tell us how they must make that information available. Some schools are telling parents to file right to know requests. Some schools are telling parents you have to schedule a date and time and drive all the way down to the school district to sit down and figure this information out in the middle of hectic and busy schedule.

“It’s unbelievable and it’s antiquated. It’s something that has to change.”

Lewis said the real reason for the veto is Democrats want to keep parents from viewing what their children learn in school, and he rebuked Wolf’s allegations of dubious motivations behind his bill.

“The bill said nothing about cultures, identities and experiences,” Lewis said. “But the governor turned it into a cultural issue in his veto message. It makes no sense.

“Somehow … it’s now dangerous and harmful for parents to find out what their kids are going to be learning in school the next school year,” Lewis said. “This is unacceptable, it’s egregious.”