The Parents Bill of Rights was passed in the House on Friday in an educational policy win for Republicans that has gained steam at the state level.
The legislation was introduced by Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.) and approved in a largely party-line vote, as Republicans argue parents deserve more transparency from their schools and more of a say in what their children are taught.
Democrats, who dubbed the legislation the “Politics Over Parents Act,” argue the bill does nothing to increase parental engagement in their children’s education and overburdens schools.
It is unlikely to get any serious attention in a Democrat-controlled Senate, but the bill will most certainly be used by the GOP to attack Democrats, using the message that Democrats do not want parents involved in their children’s education.
Here are five things to know about the Parents Bill of Rights, what it does and what it signifies:
Increases transparency in school curriculum
One of the bill’s main goals was to lesson plans and school curricula more accessible to parents.
The legislation would obligate schools to share on a publicly available website information about the following: types of books in classrooms and libraries; the curriculum; how a school’s budget is spent; if academic standards change; and other information about a student’s education.
“It is not an attempt to have Congress dictate their curriculum or determine the books in the library,” Letlow said during debate on the bill. “Instead, this bill aims to bring more transparency and accountability to education, allowing parents to be informed and when they have questions and concerns to lawfully bring them to their local school boards.”
Public schools are already required to give this sort of information to parents upon request, but parents need to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request form for some of it.
Democrats argued parents already have the right to review their children’s educational materials and raised concerns about the section requiring all books to be disclosed.
Republicans in some states have banned certain books from school curricula, and Democrats fear this legislation would make banning books easier.
“Democrats put forward amendments to prevent politicians from banning books. They all voted no. Democrats put forward six amendments to prevent censorship. They all voted no. And now they’re trying to pretend like they have no idea why we would be concerned about book bans. Give me a break,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said.
Dictates notification to parents of schools’ transgender student policies
Two amendments were added to the legislation, both introduced by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), that would dictate school notifications of certain policies relating to transgender students.
The first amendment makes it a requirement for parents to be informed if a school allows transgender students to participate in sports that don’t match the gender a student was given at birth.
The second amendment similarly requires schools to tell parents if transgender students are allowed to use bathrooms that don’t correspond with the gender a student was given at birth.
The amendments match pushes in many states, where policies are being enacted that restrict transgender students’ restroom use or sports participation.
“I think what we’re seeing here today is the Republicans’ attempt, Republican Party’s attempt, to take some of the most heinous legislation that we are seeing passed on the state level to attack our trans and LGBT as well as people from marginalized communities right to exist in schools,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said during Thursday’s debate on the bill.
Schools must reveal accommodations made for LGBTQ students
The Parents Bill of Rights not only talks about notification of general policies around transgender students, but other children who identify as LGBTQ.
The bill says parents are to be notified if a school employee or contractor changes a child’s preferred name or pronouns in the classroom.
A parent must also be told if a child switches the locker room or bathroom they use in accordance with a different gender than the one given to them at birth.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the House Committee on Education chairperson, responded to a concern from a fellow Republican about these measures during debate on the House floor.
“The bill does not address a student’s identity or statements, but is solely focused on notifying parents about actions taken by school personnel to act on a gender transition, such as changing pronouns or switching locker rooms,” Foxx said.
“Our bill enshrines common sense transparency for parents of children to reflect these concerns, but it does not force any teacher to reveal private conversations or any information about sexual orientation,” she added.
A long-sought win for the GOP
This isn’t the first time Republicans have tried to get a parental bill of rights through the House.
The fight began back in 2021, as Republicans were breathing new life into their education policies as parents were angry about school closures due to COVID-19.
The bill was introduced that year, but was given little attention by the Democratic-controlled House.
Since then, numerous states have passed some version of a parental bill of rights, most notably in Florida, where the bill was called “Don’t Say Gay” by the opposition.
With little chance the Parents Bill of Rights would make it through the Senate or the White House, Republicans will campaign on the success of the House vote and opposition from Democrats on the bill.
Democrats are pushing back on the GOP’s parental involvement narrative
Republicans are trying to paint Democrats as uncaring about parental involvement in education, and Democrats are not taking that lightly.
“This legislation has nothing to do with parental involvement, parental engagement,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said on the House floor Thursday during the bill’s debate.
“Parental empowerment has everything to do with jamming the extreme MAGA Republican ideology down the throats of the children and the parents of the United States of America,” he added.
Democrats stressed during debates that parental engagement is top of mind for the party, but say the legislation by House Republicans is nothing more than trying to put “culture war” issues into the classroom.
In response, the Department of Education suggested the House GOP has its attention on the wrong things.
“We’ll remain focused on giving our teachers a raise, investing in community schools that are designed to and have the resources to actually bring parents and the community into school to fully support students, and helping parents take time off to attend school meetings. We encourage House Republicans to step up and do the same, rather than waging another culture war that will only undermine our schools, families, and students,” a spokesperson for the department.