- - Thursday, March 23, 2023

During the school lockdowns and the following months, a parent movement began to form in communities nationwide.

From Fairfax County, Virginia, to Seattle and school districts in nearly every state, parents demanded answers from their school boards and their teachers. There was a growing realization among parents that things had gotten out of hand, with pornographic books in elementary school libraries, critical race theory showing up in math curriculum, and a transgender agenda that erased athletic opportunities for girls. 

Parents said “Enough!” and did what has always been a defining characteristic of America’s self-governance experiment: They took action at the local level. This movement is about one thing: giving parents more control over their children’s education. 

Congressional Republicans have a response for these parents: “Let’s allow the federal government to take it from here.” 

Republicans, newly in charge of the House of Representatives, have decided to weigh in with what they call a Parents Bill of Rights, which will get a vote on the floor on Friday. The bill includes many worthy initiatives for parents to pursue, including setting bathroom gender policies and allowing parents more access to their children’s curriculum. 

The measure has a fatal flaw, however. 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. My fellow Republicans in the House, confusing themselves with a national school board, believe the federal government should step in to protect parents. But let’s consider the implications.

If a GOP-led House says the federal government can mandate that all schools provide parents with copies of teacher lesson plans, 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?

My Republican colleagues argue that parents should have the right to know what their children’s school is teaching, including whether critical race theory, the 1619 Project or other anti-American themes are being presented. Suppose the federal government takes on that new power. What’s to prevent Democrats in the future from passing legislation to prohibit or significantly restrict transparency to parents or to create a federal curriculum program requiring these noxious ideologies? 

While parents are fighting locally for more control in their children’s education, Republicans in the House are fighting for more control in Washington. The proposed legislation, if enacted, would take local control and parents’ discretion out of so many aspects of education — and, more alarmingly, pave the way for Democrats to use these new federal powers over education to advance a woke agenda. 

Since 2020, parents have begun scouring school libraries to ensure that the books on the shelves are appropriate for children. They have started engaging in new ways with their school boards, attending meetings with questions, and organizing new oversight committees. Many parents have even run for office for the first time, vying for seats on their school board to restore sanity in their public schools. 

These developments are encouraging. Alexis de Tocqueville, who admired Americans’ commitment to local associations, would likely see this modern parents movement as an extension of our self-governance roots. 

The Republicans in the House, however, have succumbed to the latest populist fever. Rather than respecting constitutional limits on the federal government — truly the greatest safeguard on individual liberty — House Republicans are willing to jettison the Constitution and federalism for a bill that elevates the federal government in education. Parental rights and fighting woke education both do well on social media, and many of my colleagues have chosen the instant gratification of social media appeal over the foundational principles enshrined in the Constitution. 

More authority for parents in their children’s education is essential and should be the goal of every parent, every conservative and every local government. But expanding the federal government’s authority to usurp local control of education is the wrong way to achieve our goals. 

Contrary to what many of my Republican colleagues would have us believe, federalism is worth protecting, even when we control one chamber of Congress and even when we have ideas that would perform well on Instagram. 

The overwhelming majority of the House Republicans will be on record supporting the idea of expanded federal powers in your child’s education. I have no doubt the Democrats will remind them of this position when they are back in charge and want to pass federal education bills. 

 • Rep. Ken Buck represents Colorado’s 4th Congressional District and serves on the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees. 

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