Anti-civics House Bill 3979 is effectively dead! Here’s what happened.

May 28, 2021 | Texas

By Maggie Stern

The House just sent anti-civics bill HB 3979 back to the Senate after a ruling that the amendments added by the Senate are not germane to (read: can’t be included in) the bill. With so little time left in session, HB 3979 is effectively dead! The fight’s not totally over yet – we could still see some of this anti-civics language get tacked on to other bills so stay tuned for further alerts from us and our partners. But take a minute to celebrate because your advocacy helped protect civics and let Texas lawmakers know that students demand a comprehensive and honest education.

Need help understanding what’s going on here? No worries – the legislature is complicated (one reason we need better civics ed) so CDF-Texas has you covered…

How did we get here?

There were several civics bills filed this session, including many with bipartisan support that CDF-Texas and our partners in the Texas Civic Education Coalition championed as opportunities to strengthen civic education for all Texas students and to support teachers to have hard but necessary conversations in the classroom.

Then partisanship and silencing our voices became the priority to state leaders, instead of the needs and demands of the Texans who Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan are supposed to serve. That’s how we got anti-civics bill HB 3979 (also filed in the Senate as SB 2202) that:

  • Censored conversation about race, racism, and discrimination;
  • Prohibited students from engaging in active civic learning opportunities; and
  • Ignored the voices of students, teachers, school districts, and parents who will all be harmed by this bill.

The House debated for hours into the night about this bill. Representatives spoke about the need to include the writings and words of women and people of color, the history of marginalized communities including Native Americans and Black Americans, and the importance of denouncing white supremacy from the classroom to the Capitol. Ultimately the House added nearly 20 amendments before passing the bill along partisan lines.

Then the bill got to the Senate, where senators in the State Affairs committee started from scratch, erasing the House amendments and ignoring regular order so they could pass the bill to the floor with limited public input. The 90+ organizations who oppose this bill, including CDF-Texas, were not informed that the bill would be debated in time to give testimony. This anti-civics deception was just another example of lawmakers ignoring and even silencing Texans’ voices this session.

On the Senate floor, lawmakers once again debated for hours late on a Friday night about the value of civic education and the danger of whitewashing history for Texas students. The bill passed by the Senate added several new amendments to create teacher training programs and to expand the scope of the bill to cover all subjects, not just social studies.

And that was the problem. The bill language has to stick to the subjects listed in the caption, in this case “Relating to the social studies curriculum in public schools.” The version of HB 3979 passed by the Senate broke this rule. So when it came up again in the House for representatives to agree to the changes, Rep. James Talarico (civic education champion and former teacher) was able to raise a point of order to send the bill back to the Senate, effectively killing the bill with the clock ticking on this session.

What happens now?

We should definitely celebrate this victory for civic education and Texas students, but still keep an eye out for any attempt to sneak this anti-civics, whitewashing language onto other bills. Stay tuned for further actions @cdftexas.