Mar 30, 2023

Republicans pass "parental rights" bill.

Republicans pass "parental rights" bill.
Photo by Susan Q Yin / Unsplash

What is the bill really about?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 10 minutes.

We're covering the parental rights bill just passed by House Republicans. Plus, a question about Biden's gaffes. 

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Quick hits.

  1. Russia says it detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on charges of "espionage." The paper vehemently denied the allegations and called for his release. (The arrest)
  2. The U.S. Senate voted 66-30 to repeal the 1999 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the Gulf War and the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq war. (The vote)
  3. Pope Francis has been hospitalized with a respiratory infection after experiencing difficulty breathing. (The hospitalization)
  4. The Senate voted to end the Covid-19 emergency declaration three years after it was initially enacted. (The end)
  5. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) officially approved the overdose reversing nasal spray naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, for over-the-counter sale. (The approval)

Today's topic.

The House's Parental Rights bill. On Friday, House Republicans passed an education bill focused on "parental rights" in the classroom, making a major political statement as one of their first acts with a House majority. The bill, titled the Parents Bill of Rights, passed in a 213-208 vote with five Republicans and all Democrats voting against it.

Among other things, the legislation would mandate schools post their curriculum publicly and share a list of the books and reading materials available in the library with parents. It would also require teachers to meet with parents and that schools share information with parents when violence happens at school. The bill would also allow parents a say when schools update policies related to student privacy.

The bill is unlikely to gain any traction in the Democrat-controlled Senate, though it does amount to a Republican statement about the kind of legislation they'd push if they were to take the Senate and White House in 2024.

Republican Reps. Andy Biggs (AZ), Ken Buck (CO), Matt Gaetz (FL), Mike Lawler (NY) and Matt Rosendale (MT) voted against the bill. Lawler's "no" vote was particularly notable, given he was a co-sponsor of the bill. His office said an amendment pushed by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) which states parents have a right to know if their child's school allows a transgender girl or woman to use a women’s bathroom "went too far."

Boebert also amended the bill to say that parents have a right to know if their school allows transgender girls or women to participate in a sport that does not correspond with their sex assigned at birth.

The other four Republicans cited long standing GOP opposition to federal overreach into local school districts as the reason for their opposition.

Today, we're going to take a look at some arguments from the left and right on this legislation, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left oppose the bill, saying it's about bullying teachers and students, not empowering parents.
  • Others argue "parental rights" are really about discrimination against LGBTQ kids.
  • Some call the bill unconservative overreach, and say it ignores the very real problems teachers are facing.

In MSNBC, Hayes Brown said the bill is a "blueprint" for "bullying of teachers, students and school boards" over race and gender.

"Some parts of it make sense and could have easily been a bipartisan effort, including a requirement that parents be notified when violence occurs on school grounds and a ban on schools selling student data for commercial purposes," Brown said. But most of it was "drafted as a blueprint for the harassment of teachers, administrators and school boards that has escalated over the past three years." Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has already launched "a blitz of policies that curtail teaching about race, sex and gender in the state’s schools."

This bill would "provide fodder for astroturf groups to then pressure" schools more effectively. It also "highlights how narrowly the GOP views which parents should have their rights respected in schools," Hayes wrote. "Nowhere is there anything about the right of parents of LGBTQ students to have their children’s’ pronouns respected. Nowhere is there any protection of teachers against retribution for teaching minority students the truth about their past... it’s clear that Republicans only believe white, straight, conservative parents should get to have a say in what everyone’s kids get to learn."

In The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie explained parents' rights "is really about" censorship.

The term "sounds unobjectionable" Bouie said, which is "probably why it’s become the term of choice for the conservative effort to ban books, censor school curriculums and suppress politically undesirable forms of knowledge." The parents' rights movement in Florida has "empowered certain parents to remove books, films, even whole classes that threaten to expose their children to material that might make them uncomfortable." A single complaint about the book Ruby Bridges in Pinellas County — the story of a 6-year-old girl integrated at an all-white school — led to its removal.

You will notice parents’ rights "never seems to involve parents who want schools to be more open and accommodating toward gender-nonconforming students. It’s never invoked for parents who want their students to learn more about race, identity and the darker parts of American history. And we never hear about the rights of parents who want schools to offer a wide library of books and materials to their children," Bouie said. The reality is "parents rights" are meant to "empower a conservative and reactionary minority of parents to dictate education and curriculums to the rest of the community."

In the Hechinger Report, Liz Willen said what we really need is "help fixing real problems” in education.

The "blatant hypocrisy" was not lost on Democrats. "Republicans who once treasured small government are now asking for more governmental oversight," Wellen said. Now, "hardline" stances "against transgender students" are "drowning out talk about immediate and pressing post-pandemic issues of learning loss, teacher pay and student mental health." All this while we have "crumbling school facilities; overly large class sizes; a lack of committed, qualified teachers, and enormous disparity in the quality of course offerings, resources and college and career preparation."

Also, parents are "increasingly concerned about school safety in the wake of high-profile school shootings." The GOP's push to "empower parents" is "far removed from these painful realities."  Meanwhile, a CBS poll found "more than eight in 10 Americans said they don’t think books should be banned from schools for 'discussing race and criticizing U.S. history, for depicting slavery in the past or more broadly for political ideas they disagree with.'"

What the right is saying.

  • Most on the right support the bill, arguing that Democrats think parents should not have control over their kids’ education.
  • Some argue this is a reminder that parents are the primary educators, not schools.
  • Others oppose the bill, saying that while the values are strong it amounts to federal overreach.

National Review's editors said it's "Democrats vs. Parents."

This bill requires schools getting federal funding "to publish their curricula and to provide parents with a list of books and materials accessible at the school library," the board said. It says schools must "notify parents of any planned elimination of gifted-and-talented programs, to alert parents to any violent activity that took place at school, to provide parents a forum to speak at school-board meetings, and to offer two in-person meetings between parents and teachers in each school year." And it requires "parental consent for medical exams or mental health and substance use screenings." It also requires alerting parents if a school employee acts to change a child's gender markers, pronouns, or preferred name.

There is "legitimate debate" about whether this is the federal government's role, but the substance of Democrats’ objections was different. They "outright took the side of the state usurping the proper role of parents." Here is a "truth so primordial it predates conservatism as a political philosophy: Parents are the primary educators of their children." Schools are established to "assist them in this task, not to take it over. Democrats "are the party that wants to treat normal parental oversight and curiosity as a conspiracy against the state."

In The New York Post, Bethany Mandel said Democrats "think your kids belong to them."

In my home county, Mandel said, the "school district is infusing books about gender and sexuality into the curriculum starting in kindergarten, and parents not only can’t opt out; they won’t even get a heads-up from the school about what their kids are learning." This is why Republicans passed this bill: "to protect families in counties like mine from overreach like what’s happening in our public schools." The bill will "require public schools to disclose all curricula, reading lists, library books and budget costs, and force administrators and teachers to seek parents’ consent before changing a child’s gender status."

Liberals are hiding "behind phrases like 'book banning' when the reality is these books aren’t promoting 'inclusion' but are instead pure indoctrination." Mandel shared a quote from a book Democrats defended: 'She had since read on the Internet you could take girl hormones that would change your body, and you could get a bunch of different surgeries if you wanted them and had the money. This was called transitioning.' ... Just imagine progressive backlash if red states started including biblical values and literacy into curriculum and wouldn’t allow an opt-out or notification."

In The Washington Times, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) wrote about why he voted against the bill.

This bill "includes many worthy initiatives for parents to pursue, including setting bathroom gender policies and allowing parents more access to their children’s curriculum." But it has a fatal flaw. "While seemingly reinforcing parents’ rights, it undermines the critical principle for conservatives: federalism, the bedrock of our liberty. The Constitution provides a limited list of federal powers. As conservatives have rightly pointed out for decades, education is not on that list."

If the GOP decides the federal government "can mandate" these things, "what is to stop a future Democrat-led Congress from passing a law that prohibits this type of transparency, despite what local school districts have implemented, and despite what works best at the local level?" Parents are "fighting locally" for control while Republicans are "fighting for more control in Washington." This would "pave the way for Democrats to use these new federal powers over education to advance a woke agenda."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.

  • I've opposed bills like this at the state level, and now it's clear to me those bills have had a worse impact than I thought.
  • Parents should have a say — but individual parents should not be able to so drastically impact what schools are teaching.
  • This is even worse when it comes from the federal government.

Anyone who has been reading this newsletter for a while can probably guess where I stand here.

I was opposed to the initial legislation in Florida around CRT that set off this trend of state overreach, and all my worst fears have basically come true. Similarly, I found the follow-up Parental Rights bill in Florida (dubbed the "Don't Say Gay Bill" by critics) very troubling, specifically because it was overly vague and incredibly burdensome for educators.

When that bill passed, many readers who supported it told me that Gov. DeSantis was only restricting this kind of education for young children — up to third grade. I argued both that some key phrasing would allow it to impact all students, and that continued legislation was likely to expand beyond that. Now DeSantis is considering the same restrictions for students through 12th grade — meaning 17- and 18-year-olds will be coddled on what they can learn in class. They will, quite literally, be prohibited from discussing topics like sex and gender in school, right here in the United States of America.

I also expressed deep concern about book bans, noting that there was a time when Republicans fought book removals being pushed by progressive activists. And I was very clear that teachers, administrators, and school boards (i.e. involved parents) would, in conjunction, be the best people to make these decisions — not individual parents. Now we are seeing the repercussions of leaving it up to individual parents' sensitivities: Last week, a Florida charter school forced out a principal after a few parents objected to their sixth-graders being shown a picture of Michelangelo's David.

I also said that restricting discussions about "sex" (which is incredibly broad) or "gender" (which is also incredibly broad) would inevitably detract from critical education kids need about their bodies. Again, many readers told me I was overreacting. A select few accused me of being a "groomer," a term for a sexual predator preparing a minor for abuse that is being grossly overused by conservative activists. Now, Gov. DeSantis says he is considering new legislation that would effectively ban all discussion of menstruation before sixth grade, at which point some girls are already menstruating.

And, of course, I made the point that Florida was starting a war that would end up expanding beyond local school boards and state legislatures. Now, here we are: Republicans in the House are trying to impose the federal government’s will on local school boards. It is the latest reminder of the "myth of the left and right" — we are experiencing a moment where there are very few real principles attached to either side, only tribal warring.

Yes, there are some perfectly good things in this bill. I love and support the idea of parents having curiosity and interest in their kids' education, and I think alerting parents to violence on campus, or asking schools to publicly post their curricula or get consent for certain physical exams are all very supportable items. But none of these things should be federal issues (as Rep. Buck said, in “What the right is saying.”)

And no, this bill is not about kids' safety. It is not improving kids' education. It is about giving parents outsized control and a heckler's veto on everything that happens in school for all kids, not just their own children. And it would be empowered at the local level by the biggest government of all.

All of this, of course, is to say nothing of the many teachers, administrators and education groups who oppose this kind of legislation and continue to beg for legislation and resources that would actually improve our public schools.

Kudos to the five Republicans who stuck to their guns and voted against the bill on conservative principle. That's not an easy thing to do in today's environment. This would be a silly, overwrought and potentially dangerous bill at the state level, where we are already seeing similar bills have unintended consequences in states like Florida. Imagine the consequences of this coming from Congress.

Blindspot report.

Once a week, we present the Blindspot Report from our partners at Ground News, an app that tells you the bias of news coverage and what stories people on each side are missing.

The left missed a story about Stanford Law School mandating free speech training after students disrupted a conservative federal judge's address earlier this month.

The right missed a story about a study showing a majority of trans adults being happier after transitioning.

Your questions, answered.

Q: What is your opinion on Biden's many "gaffes"... however you'd like to explain them/define them. The latest being something I haven't seen mentioned in any of the press other than Fox news... Biden's lead-in to his reaction to the school shooting in Nashville, TN. What I saw, & heard him say, was him 'joking' about ice cream, having his freezer full of ice cream, & saying that was no joke, then pointing to some 'good looking children' in the back... then he proceeded to get solemn about the shooting.

— Deb from Georgetown, Texas

Tangle: I think they are and have always been pretty embarrassing, but they also aren’t new. When Biden was a senator he was famous for these "gaffes." Every time he's run for president, they've been a critical worry of the Democrats who backed him — he’s always had an unbelievable penchant for saying and doing inappropriate things at the worst time. Even Biden, in maybe a ‘meta-gaffe,’ has described himself as a "gaffe machine."

What happened this week was especially cringey. Biden dropped in on a women's business summit in the White House and was expected to address the mass shooting at a Nashville school. Instead, at the top, he started riffing on ice cream. It's just a matter of reading the room, and I think the outrage was perfectly justified. To be fair, Biden did deliver a somber and appropriate address just moments later, but I had a similar reaction that you did.

In June of 2021, I wrote a piece titled "Is Joe Biden okay?" which addressed questions about his mental acuity. I think as Biden ages, the gaffes, random riffing, and bizarre or unintelligible comments seem to be increasing in frequency. But I'm sure the coverage has increased too, now that he's president.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Kentucky's Republican-led state legislature has overturned a veto by its Democratic governor Andy Beshear on a controversial bill about transgender health care. The bill will outlaw gender reassignment surgery for anyone under the age of 18 and also prohibit the use of puberty blockers, hormones, and inpatient and outpatient gender-affirming hospital services. Kentucky's state legislature, with Republican supermajorities in both chambers, overrode Bashear’s veto to pass the bill. Doctors serving children who are taking puberty blockers or hormone therapy will have to set a timeline for "detransition," but can continue offering care if removing them from treatment could harm the child. Protests broke out at the state capitol over the bill. The Associated Press has the story.


  • 729. The number of books and resources that were banned in libraries in 2021, according to the American Library Association.
  • 1,269. The number in 2022.
  • 2,571. The number of unique titles that were targeted for censorship in 2022.
  • 58%. The percentage of those challenges that targeted books and materials in school libraries, classroom libraries or school curricula.
  • 41%. The percentage of those challenges that targeted books and materials in public libraries.

The extras.

  • One year ago today, we covered Biden's new budget.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter: The Fox News story about major tech experts calling for a pause on AI development.
  • Work 'em: 79% of Tangle readers said they generally support bills that allow teenagers to work with less regulation.
  • Weekend listening: I interviewed political psychologist Steven Kull about ways to give people a greater voice in public policy. You can listen here.
  • Take the poll: What do you think of this bill? Let us know.

Have a nice day.

Ukrainians who recently arrived in Minneapolis as refugees are headed to Mississippi to aid tornado victims. Seven Ukrainian refugees, none of whom have been in the U.S. longer than three months, responded to a call from the nonprofit American Service based in Minneapolis. They got in a caravan and hit the road for a 2,000 mile round trip journey to Mississippi, where 26 people died Friday during a rash of tornados. American Service's Director of operation Sofia Rudenko is a Ukrainian herself, who only arrived in the U.S. around Christmas. “Here in America a lot of people helped me to establish here and we have this kind of culture that we want not only to take but also to give back and to help the others,” Rudenko said. “I found a group of people, Ukrainian, that are not working today and willing to go immediately and now we’re packing and going… I hope we can do something great for this world.” MPR News has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.