House Republicans to Push “Parents’ Rights” Education Bill 

March 24, 2023

House Republicans on Friday were set to hold a vote on the so-called “Parents’ Rights Bill” that they say will give parents a greater voice in what is taught in public schools.

The bill was part of a campaign promise that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had vowed to make a top priority following the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans won a five-seat majority in the lower chamber. 

Critics have blasted the bill as fuel for the far-right movement that has resulted in book bans, rewrites of history and chaos at school board meetings across the country.

The bill’s supporters, meanwhile, assert it does not ban any books. They describe it as common sense legislation that encourages parents to have greater input in their children’s curricula.

Basically, the 30-page bill would update the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act to enforce that public schools make certain information available online, including class curriculums, readings lists, library books and school budgets. Administrators would also have to notify parents of any violent acts that happen on school grounds. Further, the school would have to collaborate with parents on how best to protect children’s online data, along with other measures.

Amid the open amendment process in the House—one of the concessions McCarthy made with party holdouts to secure the Speakership—some far-right Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus attempted to add other measures as amendments, including a call to abolish the Department of Education, a requirement that schools report transgender athletes who participate in women’s sports and an endorsement of vouchers that would send public funds to private schools.

But other Republicans, like Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, rejected these proposals, saying they would “sink the bill.” 

Even so, while the “Parents’ Rights Bill” is expect to pass in the GOP-led House, it’s almost certain to fail in the Democratic-led Senate, where it would need 60 votes to pass. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has vowed it will face a “dead end” in the upper chamber, adding that the bill is evidence that the House GOP has been taken over by “hard right MAGA ideologues.”

The promotion of parental rights became a political call to arms for Republicans over the past three years, helping to lock in high-profile political victories for Republican governors like Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Ron DeSantis of Florida. The issue first arose amid the Covid-19 pandemic as parents and schools debated masking, remote classrooms and vaccine mandates. 

The governors are tackling issues that remain up for debate throughout the entirety of the U.S. For example, while roughly a dozen other states have proposed legislation that mimics Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law—popularly known as its “Don’t Say Gay” bill— another 16 states’s attorneys general last year sued the state in U.S. District Court in Florida, saying the legislation lacks educational merit and harms students and teachers.

The Florida law specifies that it covers children in third grade and younger, but recently a rule has been proposed in the state’s Board of Education which would expand it to grades 4 through 12.

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