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Advocates for low-income, minority Ohioans call on House speaker to stop 'divisive concepts' bill

Attendees listen to speaker at a Statehouse press conference opposing the teaching of "critical race theory" in July 2021.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Attendees listen to speaker at a Statehouse press conference opposing the teaching of "critical race theory" in July 2021.

Advocates for low-income and minority Ohioans are blasting a Republican-backed bill that goes beyond banning the teaching of so-called “divisive concepts” or what some call “critical race theory” in just K-12 schools. Advocates want a key Republican leader to halt the bill entirely.

House Bill 327 would prevent K-12 schools, colleges and universities, state agencies and local governments from discussing racism in public policy in training and educational events.

The advocacy groups noted the state's infant mortality rate is three times higher for Black infantsthan white infants, and Black Ohioans have shorter lifespans than white Ohioans. Black Ohioans are also more likely to be overweight or obese, have adult-onset diabetes, and experience long-term complications from diabetes.

The groups also said the bill is especially surprising because Ohio was the first state to create an Office of Minority Health, and Governor Mike DeWine launched a minority health strike force during the pandemic to look into why COVID was hitting minority communities harder.

Tracy Najera is the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund. She said the bill is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

"It will hurt. And instead create a myriad of challenges for educators, for state and local government agencies, and for nonprofit organizations that receive funding from the state of Ohio and local funding," Najera said. "It denies history. It denies data research and what's going on in everyday communities."

Democratic former state senator Charleta Tavares is the Chief Executive Officer of PrimaryOne Health, a nonprofit that operates health centers in Columbus. She said the bill could strip the funding of groups receiving state grants.

"They would lose their funding by attempting to address health disparities and state or local governments would be barred from giving out funding to address health disparities going forward," Tavares said.

"Further, instead of having individuals on staff with non-profits or public agencies to further this understanding, to get to root causes, to get to continuous improvement, instead there's going to be policing, policing and making sure that people aren't violating this law. In short, averting our eyes from reality does nothing to help Ohioans."

Some religious leaders are speaking out as well.

Rev. Tim Ahrens is the senior minister at Columbus’ First Congregational Church, and said the bill is morally bankrupt because it ignores obvious racial disparities.

"House Bill 327 represents an unprecedented attack on public health efforts for the least of these in Ohio," said Ahrens. "Every single one of us who call ourselves righteous should be ashamed. We should be united in an effort to create solutions to health disparities, not greater gaps.”

The groups are asking House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) to stop further hearings on the bill, which is a hot issue among GOP candidates.

"The legislature must acknowledge that the bill cannot be fixed. It cannot be amended to make it better," said Tim Johnson with the Ohio Poverty Law Center. "House Bill 327 must not move forward. Period."

There was no response to a request for comment from the bill’s Republican sponsors, Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland) and Rep. Sarah Arthur Fowler (R-Ashtabula). The bill had its first hearing in June and hasn't had a second one.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.