Recognizing Children in the Debate Over Education and SchoolsChild Rights Education
As a child advocate, it is deeply frustrating to people in our community that issues of great importance to children, such as education, are rarely debated in Congress. Just a few years ago, we could not identify a single bill or vote in the U.S. Senate that was taken related to issues of importance to our nation’s children, who represent about one-quarter of the nation’s population.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives took up an education issue, H.R. 5, the Parents Bill of Rights. First Focus Campaign for Children opposes the legislation for:
- failing to recognize that children have a right and role to play in their education;
- creating significant new bureaucracy, red tape, and reporting requirements for every single public school in this country that results in funding, time, attention, and services being diverted away from educating and serving children in every single public school across this country;
- promoting and facilitating book bans and censorship rather than greater access to books, reading, and learning;
- threatening access to health care, privacy, and confidentiality of students;
- promoting division and animosity between parents and educators in the education of children rather than helping facilitate partnerships and greater civility between parents and educators; and,
- urging the reporting of “violence” in schools after the fact rather than the protection and prevention of violence to students, teachers, other educators, and school board members.
Education is a children’s issue. You would never know that from much of the House debate on H.R. 5, which often had nothing or little to do with the educational, health, nutritional, or safety needs and concerns of children. Instead, the debate often focused about the agenda of a certain set of parents and the imposition of new federally imposed mandates upon public schools across this country without a single dollar of funding to help pay for these requirements.
And yes, money matters.
If H.R. 5 were to be enacted into law, school districts would be required to respond with resources, time, and attention to the numerous new demands in the bill. Unfortunately, the supporters of the legislation failed to recognize or acknowledge that the funding, time, and attention that schools would need to spend in response to H.R. 5 would come at the direct expense of children.
Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) offered an amendment to ensure such resources would not be diverted from children. As she explained, “This is a simple, commonsense solution that removes a potentially costly barrier for school systems that are already struggling to maintain their budgets.” Sadly, her amendment was defeated by a vote of 203–217.
In addition, over 230 child advocacy organizations, parent groups, education organizations, and an array of other groups signed a letter organized by the U.S. Conference on Civil Rights and signed by First Focus Campaign for Children in opposition to H.R. 5 and in favor of H.Res.219 by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). We were disappointed that the House of Representatives acted to pass H.R. 5 by a vote of 213–208 and turned down H.Res. 219 by a vote of 203–223.
Among the amendments, there was one offered by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) that called for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education and its role in providing funding to our nation’s schools with concentrated poverty, child care, after-school programs, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Special Olympics, Education for Homeless Children and Youth, Full-Service Community Schools, GEAR UP, Impact Aid, migrant education, and TRIO.
Although the amendment fortunately failed by a vote of 161–265, it is disturbing that so many members of the House would actively choose to leave millions of the most vulnerable children and their education worse off. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the 60 Republicans and 205 Democrats who voted against the Massie Amendment.
It is also important to highlight that there were some important advocates in the House of Representatives who spoke out in support of the needs, concerns, and best interests of children in last week’s House debate.
A number of members expressed support for a larger “Children’s and Parents’ Agenda” with respect to education, the Child Tax Credit, health, nutrition, and safety for kids that is quite different from what was offered and promoted in H.R. 5, such as book bans, attacks on LGBTQ students, and new unfunded mandates upon schools.
Here is a sample of those statements in Congress in defense and support of children:
Rep. Bobby Scott (VA)
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) led the opposition to H.R. 5. There are many clips of him speaking against H.R. 5 on March 23–24 that it was impossible to pick just one. Therefore, it is important to just thank him and his staff for their leadership in opposition to H.R. 5 and for their support of H.Res. 219.
Rep. Maxwell Frost (FL)
This bill focused on parents’ rights, but what about the rights of our students? What about the rights of our young people?
… what about the kids who are gunned down in their classrooms? The leading cause of death for young people in this country is gun violence.
None of that is in this bill.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR)
We have put forward a substantive plan (H.Res. 129) that will actually increase the frequency, quality, and accessibility of parental involvement and engagement in schools; a substantive plan that invests in evidence-based models and support systems that have been shown to increase family engagement and improve student achievement; a substantive plan that encourages parents to be partners, not adversaries, in their children’s education; a substantive plan that roots out discrimination based on race, disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or gender identity in our public schools; a substantive plan that, unlike H.R. 5, doesn’t carry dangerous, authoritarian undertones encouraging book bans, discouraging the teaching of scientifically and historically accurate curricula, and leading to the micromanagement of the work of educators.
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (PA)
…this bill pits parents against each other and against teachers in a way that creates more chaos and community discord. That hurts students and families, disregards talented educators, undermines public schools, and detracts from what should be our ultimate goal, providing the best possible public education for America’s children.
Rep. Mark Takano (CA)
…children have a God-given right not to be physically or emotionally harmed…. Good teachers care about their kids. Good teachers know that a relationship with parents is important. But when a home is not safe for LGBTQ kids, school becomes their safe place, and teachers need to be their cheerleaders, not their first bullies.
This bill forces good teachers to do bad things. It alienates students from their parents. It outs kids. It forces kids back into the closet. It is a fundamental invasion of privacy that puts children in danger.
Rep. Jahana Hayes (CT)
This bill will not improve educational outcomes. This bill caters to a small group of individuals who seek to impose their world views on entire school districts, on my child.
Rep. Sara Jacobs (CA)
My colleagues glaze over the causes of real violence at our Nation’s schools, like proper investments in school-based mental health programs, social, emotional, and cultural competency professional development for educators and administrators, disciplinary measures that eradicate the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and, more importantly, gun control measures to ensure that our youth are safe from school shootings.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL)
Make no mistake, H.R. 5 undermines teachers, and instead of offering students more support, it effectively denies it. The result of this law in Florida has cleared bookshelves and canceled coursework and an AP exam on African-American history.
As a mother whose children attended public schools, I speak for millions of moms when I say all we want for our children is a safe learning environment that ensures they discover the wider world, and not force them to grow into narrow-minded, ignorant adults. This legislation just hands a vocal and extreme minority of parents the power to dictate what every American child learns.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX)
Child tax credits should now be made permanent, taking care of additional childcare for those parents who are burdened, and for those who need housing, investing more so that children have roofs over their heads, as well as ensuring that no one is left alone looking for housing.
…I am against undermining vulnerable children, such as transgender children. I am against banning books, such as a book about a Black astrologist, a scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or the story of a man ultimately of peace who brought South Africa together, Nelson Mandela.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD)
Mr. Chair, 2 years ago, more than 1,600 books were banned in the United States of America…
It is amazing to me to see politicians who oppose a universal violent criminal background check and who defend assault weapons after the massacres at Columbine; after Parkland, Florida; at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut; after Uvalde; after Santa Fe, Texas, that they are now going to keep America’s children safe by banning “The Handmaid’s Tale’’ and “1984.’’
…we can do better for the children of America.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA)
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.
Rep. Jim McGovern (MA)
This bill is going to be weaponized by far right groups and used to threaten schools with legal action if they don’t pull books off the shelves.
Rep. Joe Neguse (CO)
[Parents in Colorado] are concerned about their students — their children — coming home from school alive. They are concerned about the ability of children to be able to get a quality education and not go hungry, to not be poisoned by lead pipes in some of the dilapidated buildings in rural and urban communities across this country, and about the cost of childcare.
Mr. Speaker, that is what they are concerned about.
Rep. Frederica Wilson (FL)
This bill is nothing more than a talking point of the extreme MAGA agenda that will hurt children and hurt our schools. Let’s face it — there has been a movement to eliminate public education since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
…You will never eliminate public schools. We will fight you as long as it takes. This is all that the little children who look like me have. Public schools are the bedrock of this Nation.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY)
This flowery language of “parental rights and freedom’’ hides the sinister fact of this legislative text… It includes two provisions that require schools to out trans, nonbinary, and LGBT youth even if it would put said youth in harm’s way.
One of the highest rates of youth homelessness is in the LGBT community, from parents who want to kick their children out in households that may be unstable or abusive. For so many children of abuse, school is their only safe place to be.
Rep. Morgan McGarvey (KY)
In addition to restricting parents’ rights, H.R. 5 hurts some of our most vulnerable kids in the LGBTQ community. Why? According to the Trevor Project, one LGBTQ youth attempts suicide every 45 seconds, 45 seconds. Why?
Why are we being more cruel?
I believe that not just in politics but in life we are judged by how we treat those on the margins. My message to my colleagues is simple: Stop being mean to kids. We can be involved and be inclusive.
Normally, we warn our kids about dealing with bullies in their classrooms. We shouldn’t have to warn them about bullying from adults, too.
Rep. Angie Craig (MN)
If you want to support parents, let’s fully fund our public schools and sharpen our focus on special education programs. Let’s figure out how we recruit and retain talented teachers. Let’s get our kids and educators the mental health resources they desperately need.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (NY)
…every single child should have access to a high-quality, first-rate education.
…every single child throughout America should learn reading, writing, and arithmetic at the highest level possible.
…every single child should be exposed to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics so that they have the skills to succeed in the 21st century economy.
…every single child in this great Nation should have the opportunity to robustly pursue the American Dream.
Far too often, children are an afterthought in debates in the halls of Congress. Much of the debate around H.R. 5 completely ignored the needs, concerns, and best interests of children. But to these 17 House members and others who also took to the House floor in support of children, we see you and appreciate your commitment to children.
Special acknowledgment to Reps. Wasserman Schultz and Jackson Lee for putting the First Focus Campaign for Children letter into the Congressional Record. Thank you!