LEWISVILLE, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - At the public charter school, Founders Classical Academy of Lewisville Thursday night, Governor Greg Abbott warned hundreds of parents they're losing their voice when it comes to their child's education and healthcare. "The essential role of parents is being threatened by government itself."
During the past year, we've seen parents in North Texas criticize their local school boards amid controversies over mask mandates, the material in some library books, and whether critical race theory is being taught in classrooms.
To help parents become more involved in their child's education, the Governor signed a pledge outlining four main provisions of his proposed parental bill of rights. "Parents will be restored to their rightful place as the pre-eminent decision-makers for their children."
The Governor said the Texas Constitution needs to be changed to make sure that happens.
Other parts of his pledge include giving parents more easy access to students' course curriculum, notifying parents about their rights online, and protecting students from the sharing or selling of their personal data outside the Texas public school system.
The Governor also told the crowd he wants to toughen penalties against educators, including teachers and librarians who give students inappropriate books. "Texas will ensure that any education personnel who is convicted of providing minors with obscene content will lose their educational credentials and state licensing, forfeits their retirement benefits, and be placed on a do not hire list."
Under the state's existing penal code chapter 43 covering public indecency, it is either a class A misdemeanor or third-degree felony to sell, distribute or display harmful material to someone younger than 18 years of age.
The code describes harmful material as appealing "to the prurient interest of a minor, in sex, nudity, or excretion; is "patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors; and is utterly without redeeming social value for minors."
Bill Bennett, former U.S. Education Secretary for President Ronald Reagan, appeared virtually at the event and told the crowd, "Take charge of your child's education. It is the single most important thing you can do for your child.
Texas American Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo criticized the Governor's proposals pointing out the state legislature passed a Parents Bill of Rights in 1995 and that additions to them have already given parents access to curriculum.
Capo said, "We're all for full parental involvement in their kids' education...what we won't agree to is a phony, politicized storyline from the governor that ends up targeting and vilifying teachers and schools...Our governor is playing politics. It's disgusting."
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-partisan institute that promoting liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise supports the Governor's parental bill of rights.
The foundation's K-12 Education Policy Director Michael Barba said, "All families deserve curriculum transparency, a quality education, respect for their input, and ultimately the right to choose the best education for their child."
This week, the Governor and other Republican leaders in Texas spoke before the foundation's Policy Orientation.
Another Republican candidate for Governor, former Texas GOP Chair Allen West also rejected the Governor's plan saying, "Parents already have been endowed with natural and unalienable rights from the Creator God, not Governor Abbott.. We live in a constitutional Republic, not a monarchy."
The campaign for another Republican primary challenger, former State Senator Don Huffines of Dallas, didn't respond to an email seeking comment.
The presumed Democratic nominee for Governor, Beto O'Rourke said he supports parental involvement in their children's education.
But he said voters have told him they oppose focusing on culture-war issues. "They want us to come together to make sure our kids can read at grade level, that we're focused on math and stem education, and that we're graduating 18 year olds in the state of Texas who are college-ready and competitive for the careers that we're creating in Texas today."
State lawmakers will have to amend existing law or pass new legislation to toughen penalties against educators.
A change in the state constitution requires not only approval from lawmakers, but voters as well.
The next legislative session is set to begin next January.
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