When politicians discuss education, their focus is almost always on issues like the funding of schools, or class sizes, bullying, or education technology. Parental rights are usually at the bottom of the list, if on the list at all. It would take something extraordinary to bring it to the full attention of policymakers.
But something extraordinary has happened. Because of a curious constellation of political circumstances, parental rights are now squarely at the center of public attention.
As a result of Virginia’s recent gubernatorial election in which the candidate who took the side of concerned parents in local school debates won unexpectedly. Glenn Youngkin flipped numerous counties from Democrat to Republican in a largely blue state by taking the side of parents—and conversely, Terry MacAuliffe lost after famously denigrating parents in a candidate debate.
In terms of parents rights, it was the shot heard ‘round the world’.
And the conditions were ripe for it. Because of COVID lockdowns, parents saw for the first time what their children were being taught, and for many (already upset by the lockdowns and mask requirements) the biggest issue was Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT is an idea that officially applies a fashionable belief in colleges and universities, holding that institutions (rather than individuals) can be racist and that policies producing unequal outcomes are automatically racist, despite the fact that no participant in the policy is racist.
In the broader sense, of course, CRT refers to any of a number of policies and educational initiatives that teach that someone can be a racist simply because he or she is a member of a particular race and despite the fact that that person may not harbor any actual racist thoughts. Many of these programs teach that if you are White, you are automatically racist.
It’s hard to blame parents for being upset, since, while our schools are engaging in this kind of indoctrination, scores on reading and math tests continue to plummet.
At bottom, parents don’t require all that much from schools. They simply want them to be taught the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, the basic language and math skills outlined in the liberal arts, and the basic disciplines of history, literature, and the natural sciences. It’s really not all that complicated.
But instead of doing these fundamental things, we have many schools that are using valuable education time to teach the latest fashionable political ideologies, and parents don’t like it.
The irony of the debate over parental rights is that schools are constantly complaining that they don’t have enough parental involvement, but when parents actually show up at school board meetings, it’s suddenly considered a problem.
But Kentucky has its own history of problems with parental rights and involvement. Our current system of school governance was the result of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). KERA weakened local school boards in favor of “site-based decision-making councils” at each school. In order to get teacher union support for the reforms, lawmakers gave teachers three seats on these councils and parents only two (the other seat was for the principal or administrator, giving the school a 4-2 majority over parents).
In other words, Kentucky parents are in a much weaker position than parents in other states who can simply go to their school boards to advocate for change.
Kentucky needs to reform its school governance model to allow for greater parental involvement. But, more importantly, it needs to allow for more parental choice in general. The Kentucky General Assembly already passed charter school legislation, but it did not provide funding for charters. Why not? Our legislature has conservative majorities in both chambers, so why can we not get this done? And why, unlike other states, do we not have broader school choice laws?
These are good questions for your state senator and representative. Education and parental rights in schools are now a national issue. It’s also a state issue.
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