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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 
Again" slogan.

   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 
this week.

   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."

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