A claim often repeated by opponents of HB1134, and earlier SB167, is that it’s passage will dissuade a significant number of potential teachers from pursuing employment in Indiana schools. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same claim that opponents of Republican-introduced bills cite year after year without fail. We heard it with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (2015), the Marion County Transit Referendum (2016) and now with both HB1134 and HB1041 (Participation in school sports). The argument typically goes something like this, “If Indiana lawmakers pass (insert well-thought-out, measured, legally defensible, conservative bill that doesn’t wholly align with a progressive ideology) people will refuse to work in Indiana.
The methods used to support these claims are suspect. Opponents of Republican-led bills intentionally misrepresent their purpose and origin. Any evidence, including the actual text of the bill, that conflicts with the opposing narrative is blindly ignored. Local outlets publish op-eds where advocates implore us to take heed of the lives the bill will destroy but refuse to publish opinions that support the bill. The opposition party’s will filibuster the few public hearings where legislatures hear from constituents. And best of all, whoever authored the bill will be publicly slandered as whatever is relevant.
As an example, in a recent Twitter post, Fishers’ teacher and “Equity Coach” Matt Brokenfeld, whose exchange with SB167’s author Sen. Scott Baldwin spurred the now infamous neutral Nazism attacks, warned Hoosiers about the likely harm to teacher attraction and retention the HB1134’s passage would cause. Brokenfeld laments that ”The attrition among young teachers is especially astonishing. The cohort of 20 teachers I graduated with is now less than half its size. Most of the brilliant teachers I grew with have left.”
Teacher attrition is not a new phenomenon. Five year retention of teachers has been steadily falling since the mid-twentieth century. One of the earliest identified reasons was the expansion of job opportunities for women. Today the primary reasons seem to be driven by the perception of low pay, higher expectations, and a desire for more administrative support in the classroom. Indiana University professor emeritus Terry McDaniel noted this in a November 2021 interview with WTHI that “standardized testing, low pay, and mistreatment from parents are the driving forces behind the shortage.” At a July 2019 InnoPower conference session, some teachers returned to this principal question: “Why do you want to be a math teacher when you can be an engineer?”
Opponents of HB1134 must also understand Indiana’s electoral reality. The Republican Party of Indiana has won the Governorship in every election for nearly twenty years, been the Indiana Senate majority party for over three decades, the Indiana House of Representatives majority for over a dozen years, and currently holds seven of Indiana’s nine US House of Representative seats. The Marion County Republican party continues to increase its share of highly educated Black, Latino and immigrant voters, volunteers, and viable candidates.
Another important fact worth considering is that thanks to activists such as Christopher Rufo, who helped expose the prevalence of critical race theory in K-12 schools and later co-authored many bills aimed at countering it, bills such as HB1134 will continue to spread across the country. While some of the attempts at anti-CRT bills lost at the polls and in courts, their proponents view these setbacks as a refining process.
Let’s also consider that with the prevalence of these bills in the national conversation, the civil rights questions they pose, and the growing number of donors with the means and will to sustain cases through the appeals process. The result of this legal reality is that basic market forces will prevent teachers from overtly prioritizing state politics in their employment decisions.
Finally, and most importantly, everything that HB1134 attempts to police is already illegal under the equal protection clause as articulated in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which the bill’s opponents either do not know or ignore. This legal reality should stand as guidance for school officials like Erica Buchanan-Rivera, director of equity and inclusion for Washington Township Schools who expressed her concern that HB 1134 will “prohibit or even excuse educators from engaging in anti-racist pedagogy or critical conversations about race.” HB1134 is simply a state tool to support long-standing federal civil rights law by offering clear guardrails for educators while also limiting the schools’ liability for violations. In principle, this is no different from the guardrails in place to guide classroom conversations around religion.
“It’s the economy, stupid.” James Carville told us this in 1992 and not much has changed in the thirty years since. It’s the economy, it’s the job, and after that, it’s family. Most Americans, including teachers, do not politicize every aspect of their lives, or see the world in a binary ideological lens, as so many on the progressive left want us to do. Regardless of what social media and the opponents of HB1134 want us to believe, there is no significant relationship between the state’s politics and its talent attraction. Any statements to the contrary are baseless attempts to disenfranchise voters with fear-mongering and misinformation.