House Republicans Pass Parents’ Bill of Rights Legislation: NPR
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
House Republicans on Friday passed legislation to strengthen parents’ access to information about their child’s education, fulfilling a midterm commitment that GOP lawmakers hope will be a galvanizing issue for their base. next year.
‘The Parents’ Bill of Rights is an important step toward protecting children and dramatically strengthening the rights of parents,’ House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told the House ahead of the bill’s passage. of law.
Five Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the legislation. Republicans hold a narrow majority in the chamber, but several Democratic absences have allowed the legislation to pass despite the handful of GOP defections.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has previously said the bill has no political future in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but the legislation sends a message about GOP priorities and indicates an additional tilt. on culture war issues ahead of the 2024 elections.
What is the bill for?
The bill, introduced by Louisiana Representative Julia Letlow, requires schools to notify parents that they have the right to review the school’s curriculum and budget, inspect books and other library materials, and to receive information about any violent activity at school.
The bill would also prohibit schools from selling student information. Elementary schools or schools housing grades 5-8 would be needed Obtain parental consent before changing a student’s pronouns or preferred name or allowing a student to change their gender-based amenities, such as locker rooms or bathrooms.
“(This legislation) is not an attempt for Congress to dictate the curriculum or determine the books for the library,” Letlow said in the House Thursday. “Instead, this bill aims to bring more transparency and accountability to education, allowing parents to be informed and, when they have questions and concerns, to legally bring them to their advice. local schools.”
Schools that do not comply with the bill would risk losing federal funding.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Democrats link legislation to other efforts to limit what is taught in schools
Democrats vehemently oppose the bill, calling it a “parent policy law.” They claim it seeks to codify already existing parental rights and politicizes the classroom.
“Rather than truly investing in empowering parents, ensuring that parents have the opportunity to engage and be involved in their children’s education, the extreme Republicans of MAGA want to drive their ideology right down the throats of students, teachers and parents across America,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters on Friday.
During floor debate on the bill this week, House Democrats argued that the bill puts LGBTQ students at risk.
“This Republican bill asks the government to force LGBT people out before they are ready,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y.
Although Republican lawmakers have repeatedly asserted that the legislation does not ban the books, Democrats argue that the bill could provide a legal basis for book bans and censorship in schools.
In the 2021-22 school year, more than 1,600 book titles were banned, according to a report by PEN America, which champions free speech.
Political cracks over parental rights and what is taught in classrooms have also been exposed at the state level. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is widely seen as a viable candidate for president in 2024, signed the controversial Parental Rights in Education bill last year, which critics call the “Don ‘t Say Gay”. The DeSantis administration is currently moving to expand this policy by banning teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation at all grade levels.
Last year, at least a dozen states considered measures that mirrored Florida law.
“Democrats are now trying to take advantage of the extremes we see in some parts of the country, the big school curriculum efforts in Florida, for example, the images of libraries with yellow tape on the books,” Jeffrey Henig said. , a professor of political science and education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
“It’s because there are still a lot of Americans, including Americans in purple states or rotating areas, who appreciate the idea that education should stretch their children’s minds and understandings, the idea that we have a complicated history in the United States and that children as prospective citizens need to understand that complicated history.”
Education as an issue of culture war
The issue of parental involvement in education has been brewing for years as a culture war issue and has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic where school closures and mask mandates have spurred parents on.
As schools reopened, Conservatives grew concerned about school curricula, particularly around topics of race, gender and sexual orientation.
Critical race theory, an academic approach taught in college and graduate school that examines the workings of race and racism in American institutions, has been brought to the forefront of political discourse as House Republicans argued that the theory was taught to students from kindergarten to grade 12.
The problem was summed up in the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial race, where Republican Glenn Youngkin trumpeted parental rights.
“What we’re seeing now in terms of the Parents Bill of Rights is really a consequence of Glenn Youngkin’s victory,” said nonpartisan election analyst Dave Wasserman of The Cook Political Report.
“It was a message that struck a chord as we emerged from the pandemic, and it helped Youngkin win this race,” he told NPR. “His crusade for parental rights has kind of become a catch-all for voter frustrations with schools and logistics in the pandemic. And now that we’re out of COVID, those issues are more of a partisan culture war that divides Democrats and Republicans.”
Wasserman says the bill is a sign Republicans view parental rights as a winning issue in 2024, but cautions the “jury’s out” for now on how independent voters and district voters swing see this type of legislation.
“Republicans think attacking Democrats as a party beholden to teachers’ unions and siding with parents on a variety of culture war issues – whether it’s transgender athletes or what Republicans would say is a” woke indoctrination “and libraries and curricula – they believe it will resonate,” he said. “And yet, we haven’t really seen this issue take center stage in a presidential campaign lately, so it will take time to see if independent voters warm up to the message from Republicans or if it falls flat. .”
Henig of Columbia University says part of the political appeal of the parent rights message is that it is adaptable to local audiences.
“So when Republicans talk about parent choice to voters in suburban and moderate communities, they can hit on COVID-like issues, which generates some sympathy among parents who have had to care for children at home. or unpredictable schooling or the complications of online schooling,” he said. “Then when they talk to voters in red states or MAGA constituencies, they can turn the dial to the end of culture war issues – anti-criticism race theory, gender teaching to young children, the issues of how to deal with transgender athletes.”
While this might be effective at the district level, the strategy becomes trickier at the presidential level. The nature of the Republican primary means candidates are likely to veer farther to the right than some moderate Republicans or swing voters might be comfortable with November.
“In general elections, most of the strategy depends on sections of the audience in a small number of purple states,” he said. “This is where the Republicans for national office want to be able to reserve the option of going back to the less controversial version of parent rights,” he said.