US Republican House prepares for debate on parental rights, school vouchers and transgender athletes

WASHINGTON. Republicans in the US House of Representatives laid the groundwork for some of the biggest legislative priorities during Wednesday’s hearings that looked at public funding for charter schools and voucher programs, as well as increased parental oversight of the school curriculum.

Rep. Virginia Fox, Republican Chair of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, provided a forum for debate on legislation that would prioritize tax credits for private or alternative education over public schools, allow parents access to the public school curriculum, and would ban many transgender athletes from participating in school sports.

Public education has become a major GOP cause, mostly in Republican-controlled state legislatures and local school board meetings where conservatives target books, often with themes or characters centered on LGBTQ individuals or people of color. The result has been a ban on thousands of books, as well as a culture war over a school curriculum that focuses on diversity, gender identity, and inclusion.

With the Republicans now in control of the US House of Representatives, the battle has shifted to the federal arena, although progress may be difficult for the GOP given the Democratic-controlled Senate and Democratic president. Education policy has also traditionally been largely in the hands of state and local school authorities.

Fox said she intends to defend a bill that Republican Party representative Julia Letlow of Louisiana, a member of the committee, introduced in the previous Congress, known as the Parental Rights Act. Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri also introduced the Senate version of the bill, which supports the so-called parental rights movement promoted by conservatives.

Letlow’s bill, which has 116 Republican co-sponsors, contains several broad provisions, such as requiring schools to provide parents with a list of books in school libraries and giving parents the right to meet with their child’s teacher at least twice a year. .

This measure specifies that parents are allowed to view the curriculum and learning materials.

“It’s time for the educational community to understand that children belong to their parents, not to the state,” Fox said in her opening statement.

“Educational Gag Orders”

Democrats have fought back, arguing that Republicans are not addressing real education problems such as low teacher salaries and school shootings.

They have criticized Republicans for focusing instead on promoting and enacting “educational gag orders” – a term used by senior member Bobby Scott of Virginia – such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, book bans, and restrictions on how teachers can teach topics related to race and gender.

“Many of these attacks have been under the guise of transparency and parental empowerment,” Scott said in his opening statement. “While parent involvement is critical to student success, the bills introduced were designed to give a vocal minority the power to impose personal beliefs on all students.”

Scott, the top Democrat on the committee, said that in his state, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has set up an emergency hotline so people can call about teaching critical race theory in K-12 public schools.

“This dedicated phone line was shut down as there were no complaints about CRT being taught in elementary or middle schools,” Scott said. “Maybe it’s because it’s only taught in a few law schools.”

Target schools

Attention to public education has increased since 2020, when schools were closed due to the pandemic, and parents and educators fought for the mandatory use of masks when schools reopened.

Targeting education is a strategy that worked for Youngkin in 2021 when he opposed critical race theory, although it didn’t prove as successful for Republican candidates across the country in 2022.

Youngkin also voiced strong objections to the use in schools of the late author Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Beloved, about an ex-slave who runs away and is haunted by the ghosts of her past.

One of the Republican witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing, Virginia Gentles of the Independent Women’s Forum, said she supports several Republican-led education bills, such as the Letlow Act, as well as the Children’s Education Choices Act, which the late Rep. Republican Jackie Valorsky of Indiana introduced to the previous convention. The bill would create a tax credit for individuals or corporations that make donations to scholarship organizations that provide students with private school vouchers.

“Students should be allowed to avoid public schools in their area that do not provide them with effective education,” Gentles said.

In a House hearing last year, Gentles argued that parents should be allowed not to send their children to public school and should be given vouchers to send their children to private institutions that have a curriculum they agree with.

Gentles is director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the IWF, a right-wing public policy group financially supported by the Koch brothers, billionaires who fund conservative movements.

School vouchers generally allow parents to use taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition. Charter schools are government funded but privately run and take money away from public schools.

“Real Crisis”

Democratic Rep. Suzanne Marie Bonamichi of Oregon said the solution to America’s education system problems is not to “pour taxpayer dollars into unaccountable private schools and for-profit charter schools” because it undermines the effectiveness of public schools and education.

“The real crisis in American education is that many of my colleagues in Congress and in state legislatures are implementing a divisive strategy based on discrimination and exclusion of LGBTQ students and students with disabilities in an attempt to censor and silence content that does not meets the requirements. their political ideology and agenda, the end of public school funding, and the failure to address gun violence,” Bonamichi said.

She asked a witness detained by the Democrats, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, about how his state’s public schools are working with parents to involve them in their children’s education, as well as support the well-being of LGBTQ+ students.

Polis said the key to the success of the school system is how inclusive it is of parents.

“I have seen school leaders take (a) inventory of parent skills and find ways that parents can complement and provide additional learning opportunities for children at the classroom level by making sure parents are partners and know what their students are asking for homework,” He said.

Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida pushed for support for her legislation that would have set a $60,000 minimum wage for teachers, arguing that “Low teacher salaries are one of many contributing factors to teacher shortages nationwide.” “.

And Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia said the five-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is next week and said the committee needed to address the school shooting epidemic.

Transgender athletes

Gentles also announced her support for a bill introduced in recent Congress by Republican Greg Stube of Florida called the Women and Girls in Sports Protection Act. According to the summary, it “would be considered a violation of federal law for a recipient of federal funds who operates, sponsors, or promotes a sports program or event by allowing a male person to participate in a sports program or activity that is prohibited.” intended for women or girls.

It states that for the purposes of the bill, “sex should be recognized solely on the basis of the reproductive biology and genetics of the individual at birth.”

Republican Jim Banks of Indiana asked Polis if he thought boys and girls should compete against each other.

Polis said his 8-year-old daughter plays baseball on a joint team of about 90% boys and 10% girls, and he said “she’s as competitive as they are.” He added that if he hadn’t run Colorado State, he would have been the baseball coach on her Little League team.

“Pretty soon, your 8-year-old son will be 15 to 16 years old, and I wonder how you will feel at that moment,” Banks said.

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