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The barrage of new state legislation aimed at controlling how teachers can talk about race and gender has become one of the biggest education stories of 2022. But new research on the connection between local political parties and nationals indicate that laws could also become a staple of Congress. Next year.
In a recently published article, political scientist Alex Garlick found that sudden increases in state-level legislation are associated with more bills coming to Congress on the same topic in the next legislative session. The correlation, which is particularly strong among Republican office holders and those within the same state delegation, suggests a consistent pathway of political messaging between state capitals and Washington, D.C.
Garlick, an assistant professor at the College of New Jersey, argued that anti-CRT proposals have already proven beneficial to some conservative lawmakers by sparking media coverage and excitement among GOP loyalists. If Republicans win control of one or both houses of Congress in the midterm elections, as prognosticators expect, they will likely pass a similar bill — even if it would have “no chance.” to be signed by President Biden, he added.
“By introducing these laws at the state level, Republicans are finding positive engagement with the media, their base, and donors,” Garlick said. “That tells me that we’re likely to see more of this at the congressional level.”
The study is based on an in-depth review of bills introduced in all 50 states and Congress between 1991 and 2016. Using a comprehensive index maintained by data company LexisNexis, Garlick exported approximately one million of citations of state and federal legislation, then grouped them into 22 separate statutes. policy areas. For each policy area, it tracked when bills were introduced, whether or not they passed — first in state houses, then in the next two-year session of Congress.
Across 12 policy areas, including education, Garlick found that a marked increase in legislative attention at the state level tends to precede a similar increase at the national level. Specifically, an increase of less than two bills per state in any policy area would yield about five new bills in the next Congress.
Some evidence has emerged suggesting a partisan dimension to the phenomenon, which Garlick calls “upward diffusion”. By accessing information from the Open States civic data initiative, which records the partisan affiliation of members introducing bills, Garlick found that between 2009 and 2016, Washington Republicans proposed more laws related to a given policy area after an increase in the number of bills proposed by states. Republicans the previous session. Additionally, members of Congress are more likely to accept proposals from state representatives and senators within their own state.
For Garlick, political diffusion is a reflection of the relationship between state political organizations and their federal counterparts. At a time when most experts agree that the political and media environment is becoming “nationalized” – with national debates around issues such as racism and public health taking precedence over local concerns – the bottom-up broadcast shows how lower-level actors can lead the conversation. Garlick likened the interaction to how local fast-food franchises implement menu or brand changes, but still mostly replicate their parent company’s offerings.
“You may see experiments at your local McDonald’s, but usually they serve the same thing,” he said. “For the Republican Party, what they serve is usually small government, tax cuts, etc. What has been interesting over the past two years is the amount of education that s is moved into this basket of goods.”
According to the current Education Week tracker, lawmakers in more than 40 states have introduced CRT-related bills since last January. But they have been adopted in only 14 of these states, while they have been blocked, vetoed or remain under consideration in the others. The relatively low rate of adoption, at least so far, indicates that the attempts can best be understood as “messaging” legislation, aimed at attracting interest groups and deliberately highlighting issues that hinder the majority party.
National polls are split on whether schools should be more tightly regulated in their efforts to teach students about controversies related to gender, sex and race. Meanwhile, anti-CRT and program transparency measures have already found sponsors among Republicans in Washington, suggesting that the national GOP will be ready to take over – and, subject to majorities being elected this fall, to vote – on K-12 legislation next year.
Garlick said the explosion of new K-12 items on state agendas is indicative of two interrelated trends: both “renewed interest in using education policy to achieve ideological and the often stalled progress of new legislation in Washington. The rapid progression of school-related issues addressed by legislatures, from COVID remediation to trans athletes to CRT, offers a guide to where politicians’ attention is turning.
“In this polarized and stalled reality of the past 20 years, Congress has really walked away from the game on many major issues, so we need to look at other forces that are actually driving the political process. That’s why the legislation on Messaging is important and why more attention needs to be paid to states, because that’s where the policy is changing rapidly.