AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
After a historic year for parental rights legislation in 2022, a slew of similar bills are gaining steam in state legislatures across the country this year. But in Washington, President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are stymieing progress on a federal parental rights bill – something which could be a major liability as the 2024 campaign cycle inches closer.
In March, House Republicans passed a landmark parental bill of rights that enshrines many of the principles found in popular state-level bills throughout the country and builds on a slate of policies first proposed by former President Donald Trump during his first term. A fact sheet on the bill released by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce affirms that “parents have a God-given right to make decisions for their children” and pledges to “make clear to parents what their rights are and clear to schools what their duties to parents are.”
Those duties include offering parents the opportunity to speak at school board meetings, making all curricula, budgets, and spending public, notifying parents of any violent activity at school, keeping student data private, and obtaining parental consent before performing any medical treatment.
In response, House Democrats introduced a resolution that makes clear the stark differences between the two parties on the issue. Despite calling the resolution a “counter-measure” to Republicans’ bill, Democrats titled it a “Bill of Rights for Students and Parents,” saying that it would advance an “inclusive, aspirational, and affirmative vision for public education.”
The Democrat resolution is conspicuously lacking in specifics, and is primarily comprised of vague overtures to left-wing talking points like “inclusivity” and “equity.” Instead of advancing any policy changes, the resolution merely affirms that the House of Representatives believes certain things about education; in other words, it preserves the status quo.
With a Republican majority in the House, Democrats’ resolution stands virtually no chance of passage. However, Democrats in the Senate appear equally determined to block the Republican bill that passed last month, and President Biden has said that he opposes the bill.
It thus appears as if progress on parental rights at the federal level will likely remain mired in partisan gridlock for at least the remainder of this Congress. Nonetheless, passage of a substantive and sweeping parents’ bill of rights through the House is still a notable achievement and sends a clear message to voters about where the Republican Party stands on the issue.
At the state level, legislators in 26 states introduced a total of 85 parental rights bills in 2022 according to FutureEd, a nonprofit organization that tracks education issues. Of those, six were signed into law.
Perhaps the most notable was Florida’s HB 1557, titled the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” but which Democrats and the mainstream media dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” Despite the inflammatory moniker, however, the legislation merely prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 – topics Republicans argued that parents, not teachers, should introduce to children.
Biden called the law “hateful” when asked about it last year, and it touched off an ongoing battle between Florida Republicans and Disney, which has leaned heavily into left-wing social politics in recent years.
Last week, the Florida State Board of Education approved a request from Governor Ron DeSantis to expand the bill to grades 4-12, sparking more outrage from the left. However, polling from last year found that 61% of registered voters supported the language in the original bill, suggesting that DeSantis’s move might be more popular than Democrats hope.
A legislative push for a parental bill of rights is also underway in New Hampshire, where supporters of legislation that would require schools to ensure curriculum transparency and keep parents informed about changes to their children’s self-proclaimed gender identity, gathered outside of the statehouse in Concord last week. Opponents of the legislation staged their own demonstration, but supporters of the bill “outnumbered liberal paid staffers nearly 2-to-1,” according to one source present.
The bill received a hearing before the House Education committee, and supporters are hopeful that it will pass into law with Republicans in control of the House, Senate, and governor’s mansion. A poll from February found that a large majority of New Hampshire voters support the provisions of the bill, including a majority of Democrats. A separate survey late last month found similar results.
Republicans in the Texas Senate passed a parental bill of rights of their own earlier this month, which Governor Greg Abbott has said he would sign into law upon passage by the Texas House of Representatives. In addition to establishing new guidelines on classroom discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity and mandating curriculum transparency, the Texas bill also expands school choice in the Lone Star State, empowering more families in failing schools to seek other options.
All of these developments will likely prove a useful campaign tool for the GOP heading into 2024, as vulnerable Democrats are sure to face questions on parental rights during their campaigns. With the right framing and outreach to voters, parents’ rights can be a winning issue for Republicans for years to come.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.