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House panel backs parental school oversight, anti-trans sports bills

Measures are part of a national GOP effort one Democrat called a ‘bunch of bull’

From left, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Julia Letlow, R-La., hold a March 1 discussion in the Capitol with parents and children on parents' rights in dealing with schools.
From left, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Julia Letlow, R-La., hold a March 1 discussion in the Capitol with parents and children on parents' rights in dealing with schools. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Following a marathon meeting, Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved a pair of measures early Thursday that have become priorities of the party’s conservative base: barring transgender women and girls from participating in school sports and giving parents greater oversight over K-12 curriculum.

Although neither bill is expected to gain much traction in the Democrat-controlled Senate, they form key planks in the GOP’s “war on woke” platform that is likely to dominate the 2024 campaign.

Lacking the votes to stop the majority, Democrats proposed dozens of amendments on the parents bill of rights measure. The emotional and occasionally testy debate on the legislation stretched on for more than 16 hours, culminating in a vote of 25-17 at 2:20 a.m.

Rep. Julia Letlow, R-La., said the bill isn’t political and would empower parents by providing them with the tools to make the best decisions for their children. She noted that Louisiana and several other states have enacted similar policies.

“This bill is about one simple and fundamental principle: Parents should always have a seat at the table when it comes to their children’s education,” Letlow said. 

The bill is one of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s legislative priorities. On Wednesday, Majority Leader Steve Scalise said it will reach the floor of the House the week of March 20.

The measure would affirm a parent’s right to address a school board, require schools to provide a list of books and other curriculum materials and receive information about incidents of violence at their child’s school.

Democrats denounced the bill, saying it represents an unnecessary, redundant and costly expansion of oversight to serve a political agenda that targets public education.

Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, D-Fla., called the measure a “ludicrous, fake, waste of time, bunch of bull.” She cited a long list of other steps that she said would help parents and improve educational outcomes for students, including providing schoolchildren with a free hot breakfast and lunch, access to medical and dental care and quality after-school care. “Those are the things that should be in a parents’ bill of rights,” she said. 

Democrats say the bill opens the door to censorship and would make it easier for government officials to ban books they deem objectionable. 

“If we are limiting the information our children are given, we are sending them out into the world woefully unprepared,” said Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., who is a former teacher. 

Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said there’s nothing in the legislation about banning books. “This bill is about transparency,” she said. “Parents have a right to know.”

Measures on transgender issues

Democrats offered amendments that would have raised teacher pay, eliminated lead pipes in school buildings, bolster mental health services for children and allocated funds to increase diversity in schools, among other initiatives.

Republicans also offered several amendments that would expand the scope of the bill, including provisions to give parents the right to review professional development material and receive advance notice of all speakers at student assemblies or events.

An amendment by Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., that would require schools to notify parents if their child uses a different name or pronoun drew an angry rebuke from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

“I do not understand why my Republican colleagues are so fixated on a group of children who are trying to live their lives,” said Jayapal, who has a transgender daughter. “I firmly oppose this amendment.”

Good said the amendment is needed because cases of gender dysmorphia among youth are skyrocketing.

“The bottom line is, parents have a right to know what’s happening with kids,” Good said. “All this amendment does is require parents to be notified. Can you think of a more harmful thing to your child than to have them being treated a different gender at school without your knowledge … when you could have helped that child with that gender confusion?”

But Democrats expressed concern that the bill could force schools to report children who may not be ready to disclose their gender identity to their families.

“No one here is insinuating that parents are bad. We’re just concerned about children who do not have supportive parents,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore.

The other bill would amend Title IX, a federal law barring discrimination on the basis of sex. The changes would prevent anyone whose biological sex at birth was male from participating in high school and college sports programs for women or girls. 

It’s part of a campaign waged by conservatives to curtail transgender civil rights. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has said she plans to reintroduce legislation that would make it a felony to provide gender-affirming health care to transgender children. Similar bills have been introduced and passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures across the nation.

“This is an issue of fairness,” said Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill. Allowing those whose gender was assigned male at birth to compete in girls’ sports would be “a catastrophe for our girls and women,” she said. “The Biden administration is erasing women to appease the most radical of their political base.”

Democrats characterized the bill as a mean-spirited attempt to target a tiny and vulnerable minority for the sake of scoring political points.

“This bill is not about protecting women’s sports,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. “This bill is about attacking trans kids. What a cowardly thing to be doing.”

Takano accused Republicans of fomenting a “moral panic … that seeks to use trans kids as pawns in an effort to obtain power.”

No date has been set for a floor vote on the anti-transgender sports bill.

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