Maggie Stern’s Testimony in Opposition to House Bill 28 – August 24, 2021

My name is Maggie Stern and I am the Youth Civic Education & Engagement Coordinator with the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas. We oppose HB 28 and urge you to oppose any legislation that silences student voices and censors their classroom education.

Our mission is to ensure every child a healthy, fair, safe, moral, and head start in life, including supporting the next generation as they learn what it means to engage in our democracy from the ballot box to the Capitol. From surging voter turnout to caring for their neighbors during the winter freeze, young Texans of all backgrounds are already part of the civic fabric of this state. But HB 28 threatens to create new barriers to that participation. 

HB 28 includes language limiting credit for student participation for activities like writing a letter to a lawmaker or interning for an organization that works on topics the student is interested in. This committee has the privilege of hearing directly from probably the most young Texans, and I have seen members of this committee thank students & youth for coming to testify and adding their vital perspectives to proposed bills affecting their education – a perspective just as important as those of their parents & teachers. The impact of HB28 will be to restrict opportunities for students to practice civic skills and make their voices heard on the issues that matter to them. And let’s be clear: students are not compelled by schools, they should not be compelled by parents, they are independent human beings who can and do choose the issues that they care about, and we should be encouraging them to get involved & be part of finding solutions to the problems facing us all.

This bill continues to ignore the experiences of teachers or school districts, who will tell you that requiring the public posting of all teaching materials imposes a significant unfunded mandate and unrealistic time burden on overworked teachers. Nearly 1 in 4 teachers considered leaving their jobs last year because of work-related stress related to legislation like HB 28 that demonizes their work. It’s another example of the way that bills like HB 28 seek to create division, pitting teachers against parents with unreasonable and unrealistic demands as if reasonable avenues of parental oversight and parent-teacher communication don’t already exist, as this committee is well aware.

Finally, HB 28 expands the chilling effect of HB 3979 to include all K-12 courses, threatening the often difficult but necessary conversations that students, teachers, and parents have been leading across Texas. Students, teachers, and parents have worked together to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion work as a response to racist acts of discrimination and violence. Students of all races have asked for curriculum & policy changes so they and their peers feel welcome & safe in their classrooms. Teachers of all races have asked for better training to make sure all students are best supported in the classroom. Parents of all races have asked for courses that highlight contributions made by Texans of color. This vital work better prepares all Texas students of every race and background for college, for future employment, and for lives full of interactions with diverse people and perspectives. HB 28 attacks these opportunities and will harm all of our students.

This is not civics. We urge you to oppose this bill.