Thursday, March 9, 2023

National Parents Bill of Rights Is Wasting Time

The GOP in DC is making noise about a Parents Bill of Rights, but if some folks think they're talking about the kind of legislative overreach we're seeing in places like Florida and Arkansas, well, think again. There's nothing radical in this bill, nothing revolutionary in this bill, nothing new in this bill, and really, nothing objectionable in this bill. This is a big fat nothingburger, a PR move cosplaying as serious legislation.

The breakdown of the bill is simple (so simple that Kevin McCarthy was able to run it down in less than 45 seconds, including a reality-impaired comment about how parents all over who just want to talk are being labeled terrorists), though we'll look at the more detailed breakdown as well.  Here are the five "pillars" of the bill.

1-Parents have the right to know what their children are being taught.
2-Parents have the right to be heard.
3-Parents have the right to see the school budget and spending.
4-Parents have the right to protect their child’s privacy.
5-Parents have the right to keep their children safe.

1- Are there states that don't require public schools to make their curriculum a matter of public record? They should fix that. Now, if the GOP means that every word the teacher is going to speak and every worksheet they're going to hand out should be a matter of public record before the year starts, well, that's not possible. 

This is also meant to include a list of every book in the library, and a "timely notice" of any plan to eliminate gifted programs. 

2- I'm not aware of any public school in the country where the rule is to never, ever listen to a parent who calls the school. I suspect that some folks have confused the right to be heard with the right to be obeyed, and I have no doubt that there are school boards that have instituted rules in self-defense that will limit public comment to less than a total of twelve hours. I do note, however, that since this right is only being "created" for parents, school boards must get the right to tell people who are neither parents nor residents of the district to STFU. 

The long list includes a suggestion that districts consider community feedback when making decisions, except that the community includes taxpayers who are not parents, so the bill is a bit unclear here on who exactly gets rights. Weirdly, the bill also instructs educators and policymakers to respect the First Amendment rights of parents which I'm pretty sure, regardless of this bill, are covered by the actual First Amendment. 

3- Are there any states that do no require budgets and spending to be a matter of public record?

4- The fourth seems simple enough-- don't sell student data, don't give it to tech companies--though Congress might want to have a chat with Google and the SAT and ACT folks on this one. I suspect we'll hit some bumps whenever a child decides that they want to protect their own privacy by keeping things private from their parents. But otherwise, once again, this right already exists.

5- This seems to boil down to letting parents know about any "violent activity occurring on school grounds or at school-sponsored events while still protecting the privacy of the students involved in the incident." So I guess "some student and some other student had a fight at a school thing" is the template? It certainly doesn't have anything to do with serious attempts to get gun violence under control so that parents don't have to worry about their kids being shot at school.

As I said-- a lot of nothing in this burger. If you really want to lay down some parents' rights, we could try:

The right to paid parental leave for 12 weeks after the child is brought home.

The right to wages sufficient to raise a family.

The right to affordable, quality child care so that parents can earn those wages.

The right to send their child to a fully funded, fully professionally staffed school.

The right to universal health care to guarantee the health and well-being of every child. 

And if you want to get really radical, you could demand that the rights embodied by those five pillars be guaranteed not just for public schools (where they are pretty much already law) but also for charter and private schools, which are more prone to meetings and budgetary plans not accessible to the public, listen to parents when they feel like it, and all too often require students and parents to shed rights as part of the cost of admission.

And I'll stop before getting too far into a bill of rights for the taxpayers who are required to foot the bill but are somehow never brought up when folks are beating the parental rights drum.

"I couldn't imagine someone would oppose a Parents Bill of Rights," McCarthy told ABC News, which I think speaks both to his imagination and his goals--to concoct a base-pleasing dog-whistling bill that can score some sort of political win. 

Becky Pringle, NEA president, offered a sort of response

McCarthy would rather seek to stoke racial and social division and distract us from what will really help our students thrive: an inspiring, inclusive, and age-appropriate curriculum that prepares each and every one of them for their future. Parents and voters agree that elected leaders should be focused on getting students the individualized support they need, keeping guns out of schools, and addressing educator shortages.

What else can you say, I guess. Congress could find far better things to do with its time and far better things to do to help education than this performative time-wasting. 

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