Parents Bill of Rights Act

Floor Speech

Date: March 23, 2023
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. JAYAPAL. Mr. Chair, Congress should be supporting parents, students, and teachers, not advancing this politics over parents act which would punish teachers for giving history lessons, ban books, and sow hate and divisiveness against trans kids.

Parents have the utmost confidence in their kids' teachers. When it comes to writing curricula, 76 percent of parents trust their child's school. But when it comes to writing laws, political gimmicks, like this bill, keep them from saying the same thing about this very body.

Instead of manufacturing outrage over curricula and books, why don't we just listen?

Mr. Chairman, 84 percent of parents would rather Congress give free school meals, and 79 percent want support for mental health services. In a survey of parents' top concerns by The Pew Charitable Trusts, 40 percent said they were extremely or very worried about their children struggling with depression, 35 percent said they were concerned about bullying, and 22 percent were worried about their kids being shot.

Not a single one of those issues on the top list of parental concerns is addressed in this bill. So don't tell me this is a parents' bill of rights. This is not addressing gun violence. It is not addressing mental health. It is not addressing childcare, pre-K, and all of the other things that would be a part of a parents' bill of rights.

Instead, we are spending time on a bill that sows doubt about public education and our teachers and also targets our very vulnerable trans kids who are absolutely no threat to anyone in this body.

Please understand that the provisions in this bill that out trans kids are cruel and dangerous. I say that as a mom of a trans kid. I was very embracing to my daughter when she came out, but not every family is. The reality is that 75 percent of trans kids experience discrimination and harassment.

So why do Republicans want schools to require outing LGBTQ students?

That does not make them better students.

Congress has the constitutional authority to write laws. What a mockery and betrayal of that duty it would be to pass this stunt of a bill that doesn't address a single priority of parents, bans books, undermines teachers, and hurts our kids.

Democrats are the party of parents and families. We reject this bill, and we commit to fighting for childcare, for universal pre-K, for a child tax credit, and for the ability of people to be free for who they are and express themselves.

Mr. Chair, I include in the Record two letters. One is from the National Education Association, and one is from the American Federation of Teachers. National Education Association, Washington, DC, March 23, 2023. U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

Dear Representative: On behalf of the 3 million members of the National Education Association, dedicated and trusted professionals who teach and support nearly 50 million students in public schools across America, we urge you to vote NO on H.R. 5. Votes related to this bill, including extreme amendments that would create a national private school voucher program, may be included in the NEA Report Card for the 118th Congress.

H.R. 5 is unnecessary and ignores the partnerships that exist between parents and educators. Parents and guardians already have the right and the opportunity to partner with educators to ensure students have the learning opportunities, resources, and support for success. Across America, parents are strategizing with educators when children face hurdles and celebrating with them when students achieve milestones, volunteering at events, chaperoning field trips, leading PTAs, mentoring students, and actively engaging in many other ways with students and educators.

In a recent Gallup poll, 80 percent of parents with children in public K-12 schools said they were satisfied with their children's education. Instead of building on what exists, H.R. 5 would stoke racial and social animosity. Instead of bringing us together to focus on what will really help students--an inspiring, inclusive, and age-appropriate curriculum that prepares them for the future in schools that are safe from gun violence--H.R. 5 would encourage parents to view educators as the enemy. This us-versus-them mindset hurts students, disregards educators' professionalism, and diverts our attention from a basic American value: All students--no matter their race, ZIP Code, gender orientation, sexual identity, or background--deserve the support, tools, and opportunity to learn and succeed.

H.R. 5 dismisses educators' education, experience, and dedication.

The legislation tells educators that, despite their expertise, they cannot be trusted to determine what materials are appropriate for learning, design curricula that are age- appropriate and meet students' needs, or ascertain students' progress. This will only exacerbate an educator shortage that, from small towns to major cities, is now a five-alarm fire. In an NEA survey last year, 55 percent of educators said they are ready to leave the profession they love earlier than planned. Congress should not pass laws that will accelerate this trend.

H.R. 5 will exacerbate book banning and censorship.

The legislation's library requirements, including the mandate that school libraries maintain online catalogs that are available to parents and students, are redundant; this is already standard practice. The real aim of the legislation is to elevate the voices and power of a few who wish to foist their ideas about what should be read and taught onto other people's children. This is already leading to shocking outcomes.

The PEN America Index of School Book Bans lists more than 2,500 instances of book bans across the country from June 2021-June 2022, affecting more than 1,600 titles. Affected books are most often those that look honestly at history and the difficult events that have shaped America, or tell stories of the struggle for self-acceptance in hostile or oppressive circumstances. The banned or censored books include:

Maus, by Art Spiegelman, a graphic novel depicting the experience of the author's father, a Holocaust survivor;

Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech, about a girl of Native- American heritage coping with the disappearance of her mother;

The Bluest Eye, by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, about a young African American girl's struggle to appreciate her humanity in a culture that devalues her; and

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and her Family's Fight for Desegregation, by Duncan Tonatiuh, about a family's efforts to desegregate California schools.

We cannot prepare young people to succeed in our diverse Nation and interconnected world by removing books from library shelves and curricula. We prepare them for the future by planting the seeds for lifelong curiosity and growth.

H.R. 5 will impose several unfunded mandates on already overburdened schools and school districts.

Committee-passed amendments to H.R. 5 include one that would require a ``review period,'' occurring at least every three weeks for a minimum of three school days at a time, during which parents could review any materials to be used in the next three weeks, or that had been used in the past. Districts would be required to find the money, and the time, for this mandate within budgets and school days that are already stretched thin.

H.R. 5 suggests the federal government should be a national school board.

The bill would undermine local control and educators' autonomy to do their jobs by inserting the federal government as a national school board. In fact, the legislation actually undermines the stated goal of H.R. 5. By utilizing the federal government to pave the way for influencing what books should be part of the curriculum and in libraries, H.R. 5 suppresses the voices of many parents and local communities that want their children to receive an honest and accurate education.

While we urge a NO vote on H.R. 5, we support any amendments that highlight the many real needs schools face, including those that: provide more resources for school counselors and parent engagement; ensure books remain available for any student who wants to read them; highlight H.R. 5's true costs to local schools and ensure those costs are not passed on to already resource-deprived schools; and remove extraneous requirements.

We ask you to vote YES on the following amendments:

No. 1 by Rep. Bacon (No. 52 in Rules): Requires Local Education Agencies to provide parents of a student in elementary or secondary school with the number of school counselors in the school);

No. 5 by Rep. Bonamici (No. 40 in Rules): Replaces H.R. 5 with new language regarding: public education and parents' rights to access to public schools; creation of a parent coordinator position in public schools; increased funding authorization for Full-Service Community Schools; increased funding authorization for Statewide Family Engagement Centers; and establishing rules that prohibit bans on books and curricular materials.

No. 8 by Rep. Fitzpatrick (No. 2 in Rules): Requires a GAO report on the cost of H.R. 5's requirements to State Education Agencies, Local Education Agencies, and schools.

No. 9 by Reps. Garbarino and D'Esposito (No. 37 in Rules): Provides that nothing in H.R. 5 or its amendments be construed as authorizing parents to deny any student who is not their own child from accessing any books or other reading materials otherwise available in the school library.

No. 12 by Rep. Jacobs (No. 4 in Rules): Strikes ``at no cost'' in the bill to ensure that some requirements in H.R. 5 do not fall on overburdened schools that already lack sufficient resources to meet the needs of students.

No. 13 by Rep. Jacobs (No. 6 in Rules): Strikes the provisions relating to reviewing professional development materials in sections 104 and 202.

We oppose amendments that target transgender youth, eradicate inclusive curricula, potentially open our public schools to frivolous lawsuits, create a national private school voucher program, and eliminate the U.S. Department of Education.

We ask you to vote NO on the following amendments:

No. 2 by Rep. Foxx (No. 45 in Rules): Manager's amendment to the bill that also directs courts to use the strict scrutiny test to evaluate laws involving parents' rights.

No. 3 by Rep. Boebert (No. 46 in Rules): Targets already vulnerable transgender youth by amending Section 104 to include Parent's Right to Know if their child's school operates, sponsors, or facilitates athletic programs or activities to permit a person whose biological sex is male to participate in an athletic program or activity that is designated for women or girls.

No. 4 by Rep. Boebert (No. 47 in Rules): Targets already vulnerable transgender youth by amending Section 104 to include Parent's Right to Know if their child's school allows a person whose biological sex is male to use restrooms or changing rooms designated for women or girls.

No. 6 by Rep. Crane (No. 54 in Rules): Adds a private right of action for parents beyond current law that may lead to more frequent lawsuits, costing taxpayers more.

No. 11 by Rep. Hunt (No. 44 in Rules): Adds a provision that targets diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in schools.

No. 15 by Reps. Massie, Boebert, Gaetz, and Self (No. 7 in Rules): Adds a sense of Congress that the authority of the Department of Education and the Secretary of Education to operate or administer any office or program related to elementary or secondary education should be terminated on or before December 31, 2023.

No. 19 by Rep. Roy (No. 57 in Rules): Creates a national private school voucher program, decimating Title I and taking public funds out of public schools to boost private schools that are not held to any of the requirements included in the underlying bill.

No. 20 by Rep Roy (No. 61 in Rules): Makes all funds available under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 block grants, which will lead to cuts to key programs serving students.

Educators are devoted to partnering with parents to discover students' interests and unlock their potential. We urge Congress to avoid spending time on divisive issues that do not contribute to student success. Instead, please focus on getting students the individualized support they need, keeping guns out of schools, and addressing educator shortages. If Congress joins with parents and educators, we can support learning by ensuring that students across our great Nation--no matter their race, background, sexual orientation, or gender identity--have the resources, one-on- one attention, and well-rounded curricula they need and deserve. Please vote NO on H.R. 5. Sincerely, Marc Egan, Director of Government Relations, National Education Association. ____ American Federation of Teachers, Washington, DC, March 23, 2023. House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

Dear Representative: On behalf of the 1.7 million members of the American Federation of Teachers, I write to express our views on H.R. 5, the Parents Bill of Rights Act.

Educators know that involving parents in their children's education is essential to student success. We need parent and family engagement, and we welcome Republicans' desire to be engaged in strengthening parents' involvement in schools. We have fought for parental engagement for generations, mostly on a classroom, school and district level, where the connection between parents and educators--the most important adults in students' lives--is real. But we must do it right; we can't make this work conditional on measures that will hurt kids, hurt parents who disagree with these conditions, or heap unnecessary burdens on educators' already-overflowing plates. We must listen when teachers and parents tell us what will actually help them, but we must also ensure we don't make it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn.

The Parents Bill of Rights Act gets an A for branding, but some of its provisions are genuinely concerning. The bill fails to acknowledge what is already widespread practice in schools--teachers collaborating with parents and families every day to meet the needs of kids and their communities. While it is great to reaffirm current law and practice encouraging parental involvement in schools, why not build on what Congress has already enacted, on a mostly bipartisan basis, by considering what families need and what educators need to support families. We embrace the desire of both Democrats and Republicans to strengthen parental engagement. And we encourage our representatives to spend more time in the classroom with our members to see all the ways we engage parents and where we could use support in helping our kids succeed.

We are concerned about aspects of H.R. 5 that would require schools to divert their limited resources from teaching kids and open avenues for bad actors to censor education, ban books and harm children who are just trying to be themselves and live their lives in peace. That is why we support Rep. Suzanne Bonamici's substitute amendment (No. 40) and urge its adoption by the full House. This amendment keeps some of the positive aspects of H.R. 5, and it amends the parts that would hurt our most vulnerable students and make educators' jobs harder, replacing them with measures that would invest in and support student learning, a goal Democrats and Republicans can all get behind.

The Bonamici amendment proposes a real pathway to improving parental engagement by calling for parent coordinators and increasing funding for family engagement centers and community schools. It also removes parts of the bill that would harm kids, eliminating measures that would target trans kids and restrict the teaching of Black history; Latino history; Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander history; LGBTQIA+ history; women's history; Native American history; and the history of the Holocaust or antisemitism. And it would ban book bans, putting decisions about who is allowed to read certain books in the hands of parents, not the government. This would ensure that parents who want their children to have access to books have the same rights as parents who don't want their children reading particular books.

While we are pleased that the Rules Committee provides for consideration of the Bonamici substitute, it is disappointing that the final rule does not allow for consideration of other important amendments to H.R. 5 focusing on what our students need, such as:

Providing parents with more leave so they can attend parent-teacher conferences and school events;

Increasing students' access to mental health professionals;

Enacting gun safety measures that keep our kids safe and protect parents from the unimaginable;

Supporting increasing starting teachers' pay to $60,000 a year, so we can start addressing the teacher shortage;

Increasing funding to support our most vulnerable schools and students;

Helping school districts recruit and train diverse teachers to alleviate the teacher shortage; and

Increasing students' access to healthy meals.

We will outline our positions on the amendments made in order in a subsequent message to the full House later today.

We want to ensure any action Congress takes supports, not undermines, the capacity of schools and educators to fulfill their responsibilities. And that is what parents and voters want too. Our recent polling demonstrates clearly that voters overwhelmingly reject the increasing polarization and division in schools. Instead, voters favor solutions like investing in public schools and providing educators with the resources they need to create safe and welcoming environments; boosting academic skills; and paving pathways to career, college and beyond.

We are glad Republicans are thinking about parents and want to address the issues keeping them up at night, but H.R. 5 fails to deliver on what parents want and kids need to succeed. Our students and their families face new and emerging challenges that the House should be focusing on today, working to advance solutions that protect our Nation's students, value our parents and support our educators. Unfortunately, H.R. 5 does not meet that standard, and, at a minimum, it must be amended to include the Bonamici substitute.

Thank you for considering our views on these issues. Sincerely, Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers.