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Republican lawmakers want to give parents increased oversight into their children's education

MILES PARKS, HOST:

House Republicans passed a bill on Friday titled the Parents Bill of Rights. It would guarantee parents increased oversight into what their kids are being taught. The bill, which every Democrat voted against, would mandate that schools make library materials and curriculums public. NPR's Barbara Sprunt has more.

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ELISE STEFANIK: The Republican Party is the party of parents.

VIRGINIA FOXX: Elise stole one of my lines. The Republican Party is the party of parents.

JULIA LETLOW: It's about giving parents a voice.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Those lockstep remarks from GOP House Conference Chair Elise Stefanik and Congresswoman Virginia Foxx and Julia Letlow came as House Republicans did a victory lap after passing legislation they say will give parents a stronger role in their children's education. The bill would also require schools to get parental consent before honoring a student's request to change their pronouns or allowing a student to change their sex-based accommodations, like which locker room or bathroom they want to use. Schools that don't comply would be in danger of losing federal funding. The bill was the subject of fiery debate in the House this week. Here's Pennsylvania Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon.

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MARY GAY SCANLON: This legislation is nothing more than an attempt to nationalize our education system and mandate a one-size-fits-all approach across the country - assuming that the size that fits is a right-wing straitjacket.

SPRUNT: Democrats say much of the bill already exists in practice and argue the measure could provide a legal basis for book bans. Republican members were quick to push back. Here's Chip Roy of Texas.

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CHIP ROY: We're talking about legislation in this body to just ensure that parents know what's in the libraries and what's in the curriculum. It does nothing more.

SPRUNT: Parental involvement in education notably came to a head in the 2021 Virginia governor's race with Republican Glenn Youngkin. Here's David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

DAVID WASSERMAN: His crusade for parental rights kind of became a catchall for voters' frustrations with schools in the pandemic. And now, as we've emerged from COVID, these issues are more of a partisan culture war.

SPRUNT: Wasserman says the bill is a sign Republicans view parental rights as a winning issue in 2024 but cautions the jury's out for now on how voters in swing districts will respond.

WASSERMAN: We haven't really seen this issue take center stage in a presidential campaign lately, so it'll take time to see whether independent voters warm up to Republicans' message or whether this falls flat.

SPRUNT: At least one likely Republican presidential candidate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has made this a focal point of his own political messaging, famously declaring Florida is, quote, "where woke goes to die." Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University, says part of the appeal of this issue is that it's adaptable. When Republicans are trying to appeal to moderates...

JEFFREY HENIG: Then they can bang on COVID kinds of issues, which, you know, generates some sympathy among parents who had to deal with kids at home.

SPRUNT: And when they're in more conservative districts...

HENIG: They can turn the dial to the end of the culture wars issues, the curriculum issues, the anti-critical race theory, the teaching about sex to young children, the issues related to how to treat transgender athletes.

SPRUNT: That strategy is trickier on the national level. Here's Wasserman again.

WASSERMAN: The Republican primaries have the potential to incentivize taking hard-right positions on every topic that touches the word woke. That could put Republicans a bit right of the median voter by the time we get to the general election.

SPRUNT: This bill was not about becoming law. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already said it won't get a vote in the Senate, but it's part of a broader Republican strategy ahead of 2024 to put social issues front and center. Another bill recently approved out of committee would ban transgender women from participating in school sports.

Barbara Sprunt, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.