Does Texas’ plan for a ‘Parental Bill of Rights’ put schools and parents in battle mode?

Gov. Greg Abbott reveals plan during reelection campaign, says it protects parents’ right to control children’s education, health care.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is campaigning for reelection in part on plans for a “Parental Bill of Rights” aimed at education and health decisions.

In a recent news release from his office, Abbott bemoaned that “parents are losing a voice when it comes to their children’s education and health matters” and said his proposal makes parents the “primary decision-makers” on those matters.

Among other things, Abbott said his plan:

  • Expands parental access to curriculum plans and provides a process to address concerns about those plans or school policies;
  • Lets parents decide whether a child will repeat a course or grade;
  • Bans selling or sharing personal data outside the education system;
  • Removes education and licensing credentials of any education staff member who gives minors pornographic materials and places them on a do-not-hire list;
  • Mandates the Parental Bill of Rights be posted online by schools, along with information about alternative schools, including charter schools, magnet schools and other public schools.

“The fact is no government program can or should replace the role that parents play in their children’s lives,” Abbott said during a campaign stop at a charter school in Lewisville. “That’s why as governor I have fought to defend the rights of parents, whether it comes to education or health care.”

He also lauded Texas officials for letting parents choose whether their kids should go to school to learn in-person or stay home for remote classes. He noted that he also barred mask mandates, again leaving the decision with students and parents “where it belongs.”

Abbott’s new proposal “mirrors a national push from conservatives fueled by contentious battles over how race and sexuality are addressed in public schools,“ according to Yahoo! News.

While Abbott did not say what would be considered pornographic, numerous news reports say Abbott has complained about books that discuss race, gender and sexuality.

“What I think you see is that Abbott right now is exploiting what appears to be a present and growing concern amongst Republicans,” Joshua Blank, research director of The Texas Political Project at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Dallas Morning News.

The newspaper said that “fights over curriculum and school library books, particularly as it relates to materials about race or sexuality, are the latest red-meat issues energizing conservative bases — not only in Texas but across the country.”

The Hill reported that “civil rights groups have denounced Abbott’s efforts to limit Texas students’ exposure to race and LGBTQ+ people and issues, calling them ‘unlawful.’”

While the Texas Association of School Boards said it is reviewing Abbott’s plan, it told WFAA it agrees with the governor that “no school system can replace the essential role of parents and guardians in the education of their children.”

But the group’s statement noted a hope there won’t be “additional unfunded state mandates or administrative requirements that burden frontline educators. The focus in all Texas public schools needs to be student learning and growth.”

Texas won’t be carving new ground if it passes a parental bill of rights. Texas American Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo told KWTX that state lawmakers passed a parental bill of rights in 1995 “and that additions to them have already given parents access to curriculum.“

Others noted that the Texas Constitution contains a chapter on parental rights and responsibilities.

And Florida enacted one a year ago that said parents hold sway on issues of upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children.

While Capo called Abbott’s new proposal “playing politics,” the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonpartisan institute, said it supports the idea.

A poll conducted in November for The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found respondents roughly equally divided when asked which political party they trusted more for education issues.