GOP Sets Vote on Parents' Rights 03/24 06:08
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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 critics decry the "parents'
rights" bill as a burdensome proposal that would fuel a far-right movement that
has resulted in book bans, rewrites of history curricula and raucous school
board meetings across the country.
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. It will be an early test of unity for the chamber's 222
Republicans, who have a thin majority.
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 attempted to add amendments to
the bill that amounted to a far-reaching dream list: 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 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" -- referencing former President Donald Trump's "Make America Great
In the wake of the pandemic and racial justice protests, conservatives'
intense focus on parental control over public school classrooms has migrated
from local school board fights to Republican-held statehouses and now to the
floor of the U.S. House.
"Parents want schools focused on reading, writing and math, not woke
politics," Rep. Mary Miller, an Illinois Republican, said during House debate
Public school education in the U.S. has long invited concern among some
parents -- usually conservative -- over what children are taught. Historically,
the term "parents' rights" has been used in schoolhouse debates over
homeschooling, sex education and even the teaching of languages other than
Recently, Republicans have tapped into frustrations over remote learning and
mask mandates in schools, as well as social conservatives' opposition to
certain teachings on race that are broadly labeled as "critical race theory."
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, won election in 2021 on the slogan
"Parents matter," and other political action committees poured millions of
dollars into school board races nationwide.
McCarthy made the "parents' bill of rights" a plank in his midterm election
pitch to voters to give Republicans a House majority. But the GOP's expectation
of a sweeping victory never materialized, and even in school board races,
conservative groups' goal of electing hundreds of "parents' rights" activists
largely fell short.
But McCarthy 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 and 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.
Democrats like Oregon's Rep. Suzanne Bonamici labeled the bill as the
"Politics over Parents Act," arguing it would seed enmity between parents and
educators and empower conservative activists who want to weed out books that
delve into teachings on race and sexuality. Bonamici offered alternative
legislation that she argued would foster parental involvement, encourage
collaboration with educators and make schools welcoming places to families,
including those with LGBTQ students.
"We want parents to be involved -- peacefully," Bonamici said.
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
"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.
Attempted book bans and restrictions at school and public libraries surged
to their highest number in 2022 since the American Library Association began
keeping data 20 years ago, according to a new report the organization released
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. They also insisted it does not ban
any books, even though conservative activists have used similar legislation
from state legislatures to press school boards to remove books that teach about
the country's racist history or LGBTQ sexuality.
Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx said, "Our bill is meant to give parents their
God-given rights to be involved with their children's education."