Analysis: The parents’ rights movement may seem tailor-made for Republican politics. But homeschoolers show it might not be

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Recent polls confirm that over the past year, American parents have been very worried, overwhelmed by e-learning and worried that their children will fall behind. It appears Republicans channeled these emotions into Virginia and New Jersey during the November election, as polls show education mattered to many voters – the second biggest issue in Virginia and third in New Jersey. Jersey. Parents’ rights offered an effective rallying cry for those opposing school closures, mask warrants and teaching the history of racism.

Minority parliamentary leader Kevin McCarthy has already announcement plans to introduce a “Declaration of Parents’ Rights”.

But Republicans, especially those with the long haul plans to privatize schools, we must be careful. The plasticity of parental rights as a political slogan could easily backfire on the GOP in the future.

Home schooling offers a useful comparison, historically conceived of as a school reform built around families by advocates using the same conservative language of parental rights and individual liberty, but evolving in recent times to become a less predictable political issue.

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For more than 20 years, with homeschooling enrollment steadily increasing to 1 million and then 2 million students, Republican presidential candidates have capitalized on this apparent alignment of values ​​and politics. Beginning with George W. Bush in 2000, home-schooled families featured in the presidential campaign strategies of Mike Huckabee in 2008, Michele Bachmann in 2012 and Ted Cruz in 2016. Conservative leader Grover Norquist called school-educated home of a bloc of freedom-loving voters – disproportionately white, rural and Christian – that Donald Trump could count on to defeat Hillary Clinton.

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During this same period, however, home schooling itself was transformed. Internet technology has made it a viable option for more families, and public schools have become much more accommodating. Home-schooled students were once prohibited from taking an occasional class or participating in a school sports team. Today, in many parts of the country, these bans have been lifted and parents of home students are working in conjunction with district schools.

Public support for home education is also diversifying. There are more black and Latin American families than ever before, and the pandemic has sparked the interest of parents who would never have considered homeschooling in the past. More than one in ten households with children reported receiving home schooling last fall, according to the Census Bureau.

In the past, the busiest and loudest homeschoolers were conservatives, ready to arrive in state capitals to counter any perceived threat. Today, the consensus within this movement is not that strong. New advocacy organizations, such as Secular and decolonizing resources and connections for home schooling, and more moderate approaches to home schooling, such as that offered by the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, have shifted the political ground. And while a majority of home-school parents supported Trump, the fact that 40% does not suggest that not all of these families are loyal supporters.

As home schooling has become less predictable, so has the political direction of parents, setting another historic precedent Republicans should pay attention to. Thirty years ago, the Republican governor of New Jersey removed local control of schools from the elected Newark school board, a source of power for black residents. Several years later, when Gov. Superintendent Chris Christie forced a major restructuring plan for the city’s schools, the Unified Parents for Local School Education in New Jersey – PULSE – organized to oppose the lawsuit. erosion of local control. PULSE and its allies won, control ceded to Newark, and in 2020 the city held its first school board election in 25 years.

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For Republican agents, convinced that a vocal movement for parents’ rights is a step towards privatization, the lessons of powerful Newark families suggest otherwise. Another parent-focused group, Project Ready, forged obligations between parents of New Jersey public and charter schools and recently helped register 1,000 new voters in Newark. Research shows that the showdown with the state’s Republicans ultimately brought parents closer to teachers’ unions, not alienated them.

There is no doubt that various aspects of education and schooling will dominate the upcoming elections, but it is unclear who this favors. Just as other family groups are showing political power – like the Climate Parents of the Sierra Club, who advocates against climate change, and Everytown, who advocates for gun control – parents’ anger over education could be channeled to elect as many Democrats as Republicans in 2022.

Heath Brown, Ph.D., is associate professor of public policy at the City University of New York Grad Center and John Jay College, and author of “Homeschooling the Right: How Conservative Educational Activism Is Eroding the State, Published by Columbia University Press.

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