Amy Adams is a mom of three and a former educator living in rural NE Iowa. Currently, Amy works as the Partnerships Director for Progress Iowa.
Whether it’s at local school board meetings or in Congress, the words “parents' rights” are everywhere. As a mom and as a former educator, I certainly have expectations about parents' rights. Like many, I want my kids to go to quality, safe schools where each will have opportunities to grow and learn.
But looking closely at the legislation passed here in Iowa and the U.S. House of Representatives, these so-called parental rights bills are far from what most families want or need for their children and their schools.
Most would agree that regardless of our race, zip code, or income, we all want safe schools, where our kids and grandkids can get an honest education that sets them up for success. Parents work hard to make sure our kids have opportunities. But parents are frustrated. And, when COVID-19 hit in 2020, parents also became fearful. Schools closed, businesses closed, supply chains stalled and we had more questions than answers about what to do next to keep our kids healthy and safe.
Those who had been undermining public education for years seized on parents' fears and began using those fears and frustrations to distract and divide them. Suddenly, everything became divisive. Whether it was mask wearing or vaccines, an onslaught of misinformation and disinformation flooded social media feeds.
Parents were left feeling frustrated about what to do next to keep our families safe. And instead of working to solve problems families were facing—like lack of child care, no paid family leave, and a broken health care and mental health system—some chose to shift the messaging to erroneously blame schools for these shortcomings. Far-right MAGA groups targeted parents (especially moms), looking to capitalize on fear and frustration to help them win elections and stay in power and to pad their own pockets and make money for their corporate donors.
The same people who fund organizations like Moms for Liberty help finance the elections of MAGA republicans for government offices. These groups are weaponizing parents and moms in particular to promote their extreme agenda, which hurts America’s children and public schools. Moms are a key voting block to winning elections. We saw this here in Iowa with the “Mama Bears," a duo who supported groups like Michael Flynn’s Moms For America and helped elevate MAGA messaging. They used parents to push fear and a radical agenda.
And it isn’t just Moms For America. Groups like Parents Defending Education, Americans for Prosperity, Turning Point USA, Advancing American Freedom, and The Heritage Foundation are funding candidates for school board, governor, and Congress. Their deep pockets promote hateful legislation to benefit corporations and the wealthy and hurt families.
It’s no secret that private education is a for-profit business, and there’s a lot of money to be made if public schools fail. Under the guise of parents’ choice, voucher schemes help those who already have the means to pay for private schooling, leaving behind those in the middle and at the bottom. Here in Iowa, the funneling of tax payer dollars to private schools will disproportionately benefit metro private schools, reducing funding and opportunities for our kids and families in rural schools.
Instead of pushing for policies that would benefit families, lawmakers are using these "parents' rights" bills to divide parents, while attacking kids, teachers, books, and public schools. Instead of banning books and hiding American history from our kids, parents' rights should help parents. None of these Republican so-called parents’ rights bills do that.
What should parents’ rights look like?
Parents should have the right to paid leave, so they can stay home with an ill or injured child and not have to worry about losing their job. They should have access to safe, affordable child care, especially in rural areas. They deserve a living wage and affordable health care, as well as mental health care options for our children. They need adequately funded, safe public schools that are open to all.
Bills to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage in Iowa from 60 days to twelve months have stalled. Iowa lawmakers passed and the governor signed a bill to increase state aid for K-12 schools by 3 percent, far below what is needed to break even for most districts. Free school meals for kids failed to advance. Governor Kim Reynolds even turned down $30 million in federal funds for early childhood education for Iowa’s kids.
MAGA Republicans don’t have real solutions to the problems parents are facing, so they shift blame with wedge issues like controversial books and discriminatory school bathrooms policies. Those won’t improve maternal health care, nor will they stop school shootings.
Don’t be fooled by so-called “parents' rights” bills coming from the governor, state legislature, and Congress. They are not designed to solve any real problem. On the contrary: they create more problems by discriminating against LGBTQ children and children of color, violating the First Amendment and federal laws. MAGA Republicans like Reynolds say they are about parents' rights, but they are in fact hurting Iowa families.
Top photo of Amy Adams provided by the author and published with permission.