Ohio's Version of 'Don't Say Gay' Bill Undermines School Choice

It's not supporting “parents’ rights” to censor topics at private schools that families decide to send their children to.


Two Ohio Republican lawmakers are attempting to follow in Florida's footsteps with a bill that would censor some race- and sex-related content in public schools. Ohio's bill wouldn't just ban topics in public schools, though—it also covers private schools that students may attend through vouchers, thus undermining the benefits of school choice.

On Monday, State Reps. Jean Schmidt (R–Lakeland) and Mike Loychik (R–Cortland) introduced H.B. 616, which mimics parts of Florida's H.B. 1557 in that it forbids any sort of "curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity" for students up through third grade. Beyond third grade, the bill forbids teaching about the subject in a manner that's not "in accordance with state standards." (This is awkward wording because Ohio state law actually forbids the state Board of Education from establishing standards for health education.)

The phrasing is somewhat similar to Florida's bill, but the Ohio bill does not give parents the authority to file civil lawsuits against school districts and claim financial damages. That would be an improvement, but instead, the Ohio bill actually calls for teachers or school administrators who violate the law to be punished, possibly even by losing their teaching licenses. Schools found violating the law could lose funding. So while the "Don't Say Gay" description of Florida's bill was an analysis of the subtext and implications of the legal threats, the Ohio bill is much more direct and overt. Teachers and administrators who bring up these issues or provide materials about these issues could lose their jobs.

Outside of the "Don't Say Gay" component, the bill also completely bans any instruction that promotes critical race theory, intersectional theory, the 1619 Project, "diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes," inherited racial guilt, or "any other concept that the state board of education defines as divisive or inherently racist." None of these terms are actually defined in the bill.

The bill assumes that all parents of all children in Ohio are against their children learning any of this, which is bad, wrong, and untrue. Some certainly do want their children to be taught about these things. But the answer to the conflict should not be either mandating or banning all education and discussion of these concepts. Instead, school choice would allow parents and students to filter themselves into the schools that best suit their educational needs.

But H.B. 616, much like a similar bill in Georgia introduced by Republican state senators, actually attempts to undermine school choice from the right by prohibiting any school that receives any state funding from discussing these subjects. Private schools that allow students to attend through the state's education voucher program will also have to comply with H.B. 616.

This is not a bill that supports parents' rights to control and influence their children's education. It is the exact opposite—it's just coming from social conservatives rather than progressive gender and race activists.