Tuesday, June 18, 2024

House GOP’s Push for Parents’ Rights in Education Gets Put to a Vote

'Parents want schools focused on reading, writing and math, not woke politics...'

(Headline USA) House Republicans will press forward Friday with a midterm campaign promise by voting on legislation to give parents greater say in what is taught in public schools—even as far-left critics, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez, D-N.Y., decry the “parents’ rights” bill as a “fascist” proposal that has resulted in book bans, rewrites of history curricula and raucous school board meetings across the country.

“Parents want schools focused on reading, writing and math, not woke politics,” Rep. Mary Miller, an Illinois Republican, said during House debate Thursday.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has made the bill—labeled the Parents’ Bill of Rights Act—a top priority during the early weeks of his tenure atop the House.

The “parents’ bill of rights” was a plank in his midterm election pitch to voters to give Republicans a House majority. Although the GOP’s expectation of a sweeping, red-wave victory never materialized, he pressed ahead with the bill as a priority, making a public appeal earlier this month at an event that featured a chalkboard, schoolchildren and parents who have been on the frontlines of the cause.

McCarthy chose the bill’s number, H.R. 5, because children enter kindergarten at age five, and the legislation is built on five pillars:

  • parents’ right to examine curricula and school library books
  • meet with educators at least twice each school year
  • review school budgets and spending
  • be notified of violent events in their child’s school
  • have elementary and middle schools to get their consent to change a child’s gender designation, pronouns or name

“It’s about every parent, mom and dad, but most importantly about the students in America,” McCarthy said at the introduction event.

The bill will be an early test of unity for the chamber’s 222 Republicans, who hold the majority by only five seats.

Even as House Republicans returned this week from a retreat where they insisted they are unified, lawmakers have proposed a score of potential changes to the bill, adding a degree of uncertainty to Friday’s vote.

It showed how the adoption of an open amendment process in the House—a concession McCarthy made to win hardline conservatives’ support for his speakership—holds the potential to send legislation down unpredictable twists and turns.

House Freedom Caucus members ambitiously attempted to add other amendments to the bill 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.

“Some of this stuff will sink the bill,” said Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska on Thursday evening, adding, “You’re taking a bill that is generally unifying and you’re making it more partisan than it needed to be and that’s what I worry about.”

Even if the House passes the legislation, it has little chance in the Democratic-held Senate, where it would need 60 votes to pass.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., promised it faced a “dead end” in his chamber and skewered it as evidence that the House GOP has been overtaken by “hard right MAGA ideologues.”

Democrats also raised alarm that the bill as written would force schools to out LGBTQ students to their families, which can sometimes lead to abuse or abandonment.

“We’ll fight against this legislation. We’ll fight against the banning of books, fight against the bullying of children from any community, and certainly from the LGBTQ+ community,” House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said.

The bill’s supporters described it as common-sense legislation to foster opportunities for schoolchildren by encouraging parents to have greater input into what their children learn in school.

Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx said, “Our bill is meant to give parents their God-given rights to be involved with their children’s education.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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