Michigan Republicans trumpet ‘parents rights’ education bills, part of nationwide push

Critics say they’re ‘nothing more than part of a coordinated attack on public education’

By: - February 16, 2022 10:17 am

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The GOP-controlled Michigan House Education Committee on Tuesday weighed bills that Republicans said would strengthen the role of parents in children’s education, part of nationwide right-wing push. 

One bill, House Bill 5722, introduced by state Rep. Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair Twp.), would mandate that schools, prior to the first day of instruction, make school curriculum, every class offered within the school district, textbooks, literature, research projects, writing assignments, field trips, extracurricular activities, and a list of every teacher working at a school available to the public. 

If a school were to not comply, the bill would take away 5% of the school district’s funding. 

Rep. Gary Eisen

Eisen said in a statement to the Advance that the bills will help ensure transparency in schools and will improve parent and teacher relationships in Michigan. 

“This bill is based on transparency and to bridge the relationship between the schools and parents,” Eisen said. “While using taxpayer dollars it is important to show how those funds are spent and to give parents the opportunity to review what their children will be learning. I am hopeful that this bill will allow parents to partner with their kids teachers and create a great working relationship for the success of their student.”

The legislation comes after the Michigan Senate voted to adopt a Republican measure in November criticizing the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for investigating and strategizing on how to deal with an uptick in violent threats to school board members and teachers over COVID-19 health measures and Critical Race Theory, a college-level theory not taught in many K-12 schools that right-wing groups have targeted anyway. 

The resolution defended protesters and said that the DOJ investigation was impeding on “parents’ constitutional right to free speech.”

State Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) spoke out against the bill in the House Education Committee, saying the 5% funding penalty would negatively impact already financially strained districts that may not comply with the law. 

“This is very, very scary to me and I just want to make sure that you are aware that … if this is implemented, this could already hit a population that’s already underserved,” Carter said. 

Eisen took issue with some criticism during the hearing, saying he’s a martial arts teacher. 

“Everybody is saying they’re teachers, OK? Well, that is fine. Well, I’m an educator, too. I’ve been teaching for over 47 years, all right? Now, my teaching is a little bit different. But I have the same problems that teachers have. … I’ve got 80 students I taught last night. I teach self-respect. I teach self-discipline, self-reliance and self-defense. … I am a martial arts teacher.

“I’ve got 80 students, 4 years old to 68 years old. And they’re all different. I have to adjust my curriculum according to what the students are. Some learn fast. Some learn slow. But all my stuff is posted. Anytime a parent can get a hold of me, and I will email them our curriculum.”

State Rep. Bryan Posthumus (R-Cannon Twp.) spoke in favor of HB 5722, saying that “this isn’t about attacking teachers” but instead about “empowering parents, which is something that we should all be striving to do in the Legislature.”

The bill was not taken up for a vote in Tuesday’s committee hearing.  

Another bill, House Bill 5703, introduced by state Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland), would require the text in the state Constitution and school code establishing parents rights in education to be posted in rooms where a school board holds its meetings, as well as school administrative building and the principal’s office. 

I have to adjust my curriculum according to what the students are. Some learn fast. Some learn slow. But all my stuff is posted. Anytime a parent can get a hold of me, and I will email them our curriculum.

– Rep. Gary Eisen on his experience as a martial arts teacher

In a statement to the Advance, co-sponsor state Rep. TC Clements (R-Temperance) said that the bill will ensure that “the core concept of parental involvement” is “present and visible in key areas” within schools across Michigan. 

“Political forces around our state and nation seem focused on doing everything possible to minimize and silence parental input in our schools,” Clements said. “To imply that parents’ voices do not matter when it comes to education is not only inappropriate, it is not lawful.”

The bill would also require that school faculty and staff attend an annual presentation about parental rights in public education. The House Education Committee reported the bill out of committee 10-2.

A non-binding measure in the Michigan Senate, Senate Resolution 107, introduced by state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), seeks to “affirm” that the state Legislature maintains a “commitment to the fundamental rights of parents to direct the education of their children.” The resolution seeks to ensure that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer “publicly acknowledges” the rights of parents in education, as well. 

The resolution, which has not been taken up, states that “some education systems and elected officials across the country have been disregarding or infringing on parents’ rights related to their children’s education” and cited “radical politics” permeating the public school curriculum and said parents have been “ignored, shamed or silenced” for fighting against the measures.

Sens. Lana Theis and Aric Nesbitt talk to reporters, May 7, 2019 | Michael Gerstein

Emily Mellits, a spokesperson for the Michigan Parents Alliance for Safe Schools (MiPASS) said in a statement to the Advance that these bills do nothing but cause unnecessary work for teachers and present an attack on public education. 

“We should be seeing legislation that respects our teachers and school employees as professionals, and legislation that creates safe working environments for those individuals,” Mellits said. “Instead, we’re seeing legislation that creates meaningless paperwork and attempts to cast doubts on their intentions. … Parents already have input and access to what’s going on in their schools by taking part in electing their local school board members. Everything else we’re currently seeing is nothing more than part of a coordinated attack on public education.”

These measures in the Michigan Legislature are also part of a wider push across the country by Republicans to establish or expand “parents rights” in education in over 15 states, as reported by Stateline. 

In Georgia, a bill would mandate that school officials produce children’s school records and instructional materials used in a child’s classroom within three days for parents to access them. A similar bill in Iowa would permit parents to receive a child’s school records, review various classroom materials such as textbooks, articles, outlines and handouts, as well as receive information on their student’s teachers. 

A bill in Indiana would ensure the creation of parent-led curriculum review committees and mandate that all learning materials are online. The bill would also ban the teaching of anything that insinuates “an individual, by virtue of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Bills in Utah, Florida and Missouri also establish the ability for certain officials and parents to sue over parental rights in education. In Utah, a bill would establish the ability for parents to pull their children out of school if they disagree with the lessons being taught and grants them the ability to sue schools or education officials if they see their parental rights are being violated. 

A bill that was enacted last year in Florida also allows parents to sue if they feel their rights have been infringed upon. In Missouri, a bill would enable the state’s attorney general to sue schools. 


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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.