Republican Education Bill Would Increase Interference in Classrooms

May 15, 2023 1:30:00 PM


Parenting is a crash course in uncovering the truth, whether it’s a chocolate-stained toddler promising they didn’t get into the cookie jar, or a teenager assuring us that “of course there’ll be adult supervision.”

So, as H.R.5, the Republican-dubbed “Parents Bill of Rights,” just passed in the House with all but five Republicans voting for it, parents across the country are not fooled. We see this bill exactly for what it is — a Trojan horse designed to further a radical partisan agenda and increase political interference in our children’s classrooms.

As a mom and the leader of ParentsTogether Action, an organization of more than 3 million parents advocating for a world in which families can thrive, I’d love nothing more than to see our leaders in Congress prioritize the needs of parents and their children. 

The “Parents Bill of Rights” sounds like it intends to do that. But let’s be honest. We’re dealing with politicians who have spent much of their time in office banning books from our libraries and classrooms.

If we look closer at H.R.5, we see legislation in search of a problem at best, and legislation aiming to create more problems at worst. This bill aims to manufacture legitimacy for the kinds of right-wing culture wars and attacks on education that intentionally drive a wedge between parents and teachers — and parents and other parents. 

Attacking other parents and students and prohibiting teachers and librarians from doing their jobs will not help our schools.

Republicans have made these fights a cornerstone of their political strategy over the past two years, and have indicated they will remain a core part of their strategy for the 2024 election.

This bill wasn’t introduced in a vacuum. The headline of H.R.5 may read “to ensure the rights of parents are honored and protected in the Nation’s public schools,” but the legislation isn’t about that. Parents have always had access to public school curricula, and they’ve always been able to voice their concerns about teachers and classroom materials. 

Related: OPINION: Why education’s culture wars are only about some parents’ rights

This legislation would not change that. Instead, it would allow a fringe group of parents to impose their values on other parents’ children. This isn’t an exaggeration. Similar state-level legislation includes explicit efforts to enable classroom censorship on issues around race, book bans and attacks on vulnerable LGBTQ+ children and families. It has affected teachers’ ability to do their jobs and, in turn, the ability of students to learn and thrive.

In a CBS poll last year, more than 8 in 10 Americans said they “don’t think books should be banned from schools for discussing race and criticizing U.S. history, for depicting slavery in the past or more broadly for political ideas they disagree with.” In a poll ParentsTogether conducted with Ipsos last year, 87 percent of parents said “lessons about the history of racism prepare children to build a better future.” In that same poll, 74 percent of parents agreed that politicians are using children in school as political pawns. 

The obvious truth is that attacking other parents and students and prohibiting teachers and librarians from doing their jobs will not help our schools. Our schools need support, not interference.  

Related: Teachers, deputized to fight the culture wars, are often reluctant to serve

Our schools succeed when we support and encourage hard-working educators to stay in the profession, increase funding for public education and enable more individualized support for students. None of these solutions are mentioned in H.R.5.

So, what should be included in a “Parents Bill of Rights”? 

We recently asked parents in our network what they actually want. In their answers, we heard consistent themes: the rights to affordable child care, paid family leave and housing; the ability to keep kids safe from gun violence and the harms of social media; and access to affordable health care and adequate nutrition.

These are areas of real need for which solutions would be wildly popular across party lines and are possible to achieve if politicians find the willpower to create meaningful change for parents instead of playing political games in a divisive ploy for votes.

In recent days, Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) introduced a counterproposal to H.R.5 titled “The Bill of Rights for Students and Parents” that aims to “advance an inclusive, aspirational, and affirmative vision for public education.” It’s a start at better reflecting what students, parents and schools want and need — but unfortunately, it never reached a House floor controlled by a fringe group on the right.

Instead, we watched politicians use their bully pulpit on the House floor to ram H.R.5 through and claim that they were standing up for parents. The greatest irony of it all is in the tagline of the bill and its assertion that “Parents have the right to be heard.” If Republicans in Congress want to advocate for our right to be heard, perhaps they should start by listening to us.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

 Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash.

Ailen Arreaza

Ailen Arreaza is the executive director of ParentsTogether Action, a nonprofit family advocacy group with more than 3 million parent members nationwide.

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