With House parental rights vote, a GOP-favorite state policy reaches national stage

Defending parental rights in education has become a fan favorite state-level policy move among Republicans, and the GOP-majority House is set to shine a national spotlight on the issue this week with a vote on the “Parents Bill of Rights Act.”

The measure will receive neither time nor attention in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but Republicans clearly think they’ve found a winning message.

“The pandemic brought to light for a lot of us moms and dads for the first time ever, we sat down and we saw what our children were being taught through the virtual classroom. And when we saw that, so many of us were disheartened with what we were viewing,” said Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.), the bill’s lead sponsor. “Then we did the right thing, right? We went to our school boards and we voiced our displeasure. But we were turned away.”

This is not the first time Republicans have pushed a parental bill of rights on Capitol Hill. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) introduced the bill back in 2021 when he was the House minority leader, but it didn’t go far with Democrats in control of the chamber.

Letlow’s version, introduced at the beginning of the month, would require schools to publish curricula publicly, give parents information about violence that occurs in schools and allow parents to meet with educators in person.

Democrats have to no avail submitted dozens of amendments, including prohibiting book bans in schools, to what they call the “Politics over Parents Act.”

In a fact sheet provided by Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, the party says Republicans’ bill “(1) creates unnecessary and burdensome reporting requirements on schools; (2) diverts essential resources and personnel away from meeting families’ real needs; and (3) opens the door to dictate what students can and cannot read or learn.”

Along with the rejected amendments, Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (Ore.) introduced a counterproposal to the GOP bill called the “Bill of Rights for Students and Parents,” saying “we need an inclusive, affirmative vision for public education.” It is backed by teachers’ unions and human rights organizations.

“I worked closely and carefully with organizations that represent parents, educators, civil rights advocates and more to develop this resolution so it is inclusive of parents and students from all backgrounds. Fostering collaboration between parents and their children’s educators will make our schools and communities safer and advance opportunities for all students to obtain a well-rounded education that prepares them for the future regardless of what path they take in life,” Bonamici said.

After advancing out of the Rules Committee in a party-line vote Wednesday, Republicans’ Parents Bill of Rights Act is set to be up for debate on Thursday, with a final floor vote likely on Friday.

While it stands no chance of becoming law, the bill will be used as ammo for Republicans trying to paint Democrats as seeking to cut parents out of their children’s education.

The most well-known version of similar legislation was signed into law last year in Florida as the Parental Rights in Education bill, popularly called by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

“Parents’ rights have been increasingly under assault around the nation, but in Florida we stand up for the rights of parents and the fundamental role they play in the education of their children,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said at the time. “Parents have every right to be informed about services offered to their child at school, and should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old.”

In the Democrats’ fact sheet about the Parents Bill of Rights, they point to GOP attempts at the state level “to give a vocal minority the power to impose their beliefs on all parents and students.” They say many of these bills have aimed to ban books in schools and “punish teachers for accurately recounting our nation’s history.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recently shined a spotlight on the debate, promoting an op-ed he wrote called “We are Raising the Bar for Parent Partnership in Our Schools.”

“That’s exactly what we’re focused on. From Day One of President Joe Biden’s tenure, we have made authentic parent engagement a top priority, not only embedding the needs of parents and families into most of our programs, but also creating new opportunities for parents to engage directly with the Department of Education and with their own school communities,” the secretary wrote.

The battle over parental rights in education on the state level has been successful for Republicans in several states, starting with Virginia in 2021 with Glenn Youngkin, who became the first Republican to win the governorship there in more than a decade after running on a platform largely revolved around education and parental choice in schools.

In 2022, FutureEd, a nonpartisan education policy organization, identified 26 different states that had bills in their legislature that sought to “expand parents’ rights in schools.”

And the idea of parental rights in education has already hit the 2024 presidential stage, with both former President Trump and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley highlighting it in their campaigns.

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