Parents Bill of Rights Act passes House in latest salvo of culture wars
WASHINGTON – The Parents Bill of Rights Act passed the Republican-led House Friday in the latest salvo of a political and cultural battle over public education.
GOP lawmakers campaigned on the Parents Bill of Rights as part of their midterm Commitment to America and introduced the act at the beginning of the month. The legislation grew out of backlash to COVID-19 shutdowns, when parents had a closer look at school curriculum during virtual learning, they said.
"In our commitment to America, we said we were going to have a parents bill of rights," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a news conference after the vote. "This is exactly what we just passed on the floor today. We're keeping our commitment. It's just another check-off on all that we said we would do."
The bill passed Friday 213-208, mostly along party lines, with five Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the bill. It faces an uncertain future in the Senate, and the Biden administration does not support it.
House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., slammed the bill as overbearing on public education at his weekly news conference.
"Extreme MAGA Republicans want to jam their right-wing ideology down the throats of students, teachers and parents throughout America." Jeffries said.
Republicans across the country have focused on educational issues as they lay the groundwork for the 2024 elections – from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blocking a high school course on Black history to bills restricting LGBTQ education.
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What's in the Parents Bill of Rights Act?
The Parents Bill of Rights Act amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the General Education Provisions Act – two federal education laws – to allow parents to review certain materials and activities in classrooms.
It follows outcries from parents who are unhappy that lessons and books about racism, sexual orientation and gender are being taught in schools.
The legislation would also give parents the right to:
Know what's being taught in schools (including reviewing reading materials).
See school budgets and understand how schools spend money.
Protect a child's privacy by preventing schools from selling information about students or performing medical exams without a parent's permission.
Receive updates on any violence at a school.
Require all curriculums to be made public, including any materials in a school library or classroom.
More: Parents want more say in how schools run. Do emerging bills ignore the real crisis?
Parents Bill of Rights similar to bills in Florida, North Carolina, Texas
The proposed legislation is similar in language to other state-level parents' right laws now being considered.
One law proposed in Florida aims to protect parents' rights by banning educators from teaching younger students about sexual orientation or gender identity.
Another piece of legislation in North Carolina would allow parents to review course materials, withhold consent for a child participating in reproductive or safety education programs and be told if their child asks to use a different name or pronoun.
In Texas, a proposal would require schools to inform parents about school choice options and provide the option if their child should repeat a grade or a class.
More: It's not just Virginia. Education and critical race theory are on the ballot across the US in 2022.
Biden won't back Parents Bill of Rights
The Biden administration does not support the Parents Bill of Rights Act, saying the legislation does not help parents support children at school.
According to a statement of administration policy, the proposed bill will put LGBTQ students at a higher risk while politicizing children's education.
"The Administration strongly supports actions that empower parents to engage with their children’s teachers and schools, like enabling parents to take time off to attend school meetings," according to the statement.
Other opponents of the legislation say the bill has more to do with culture wars than with providing resources for students.
"This bill would lead to more education bans, which takes books off classroom shelves and will therefore limit access to education for millions of kids across the country," the National Parents Union, an activist group, said in a statement when the bill was first introduced.
More: Parents want kids to learn about ongoing effects of slavery – but not critical race theory. They're the same thing.
McCarthy keeps promises
McCarthy pledged to introduce a "parents' bill of rights" in 2021.
Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley introduced a similar bill the same year to "give control back to parents, not woke bureaucrats."
Republicans campaigned in 2022 against critical race theory, which argues racism is embedded in U.S. laws and institutions, being taught in schools and used it to express dissatisfaction with school curriculum. There is little evidence CRT is widely taught – or taught at all – in public schools.
"Our members are very interested in the role that parents have in their children's education and upbringing," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the Republican whip, said at a weekly news conference. "I think that issue has been raised with a lot of heavily Democrat states, Democratic governors, Democratic legislators across this country who in many ways I think have undermined the right of parents to put their kids first and foremost when it comes to their education."
More: Schools are becoming hotbeds of political conflict – especially in purple districts
Will it pass in the Senate?
It is unlikely the Parents Bills of Rights Act will receive the support needed in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we have some members who want to address that issue," Thune said of the Senate's intentions to vote on the legislation.
Contributing: Kayla Jimenez
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Parents Bill of Rights Act passes House