Republican-sponsored legislation to limit participation of transgender athletes and expand parental decision-making in education passed along party lines in the wee hours Thursday morning after a marathon markup session of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
The first bill, H.R. 734, is aimed at preventing biological boys and men from participating in athletic programs designated for women or girls. The other proposal, H.R. 5, would give parents more authority over educational decisions and put requirements on school systems to ensure parental engagement.
In the session that began Wednesday morning and stretched into the early hours Thursday, the conversation covered everything from school choice, teacher preparation, student data privacy, lessons about the Holocaust, LGBTQ rights, fees to review curriculum, COVID-19 vaccinations, communications about school budgets, and more.
After numerous amendments by both parties and a final 25-17 vote, both bills will advance for a full House vote. Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., indicated on Wednesday that the vote on the parents’ rights bill would occur in two weeks. Neither bill has companion legislation in the Senate, according to Congress.gov.
It was the committee's first mark-up of the 118th Congress, a fact highlighted by a few Republicans to emphasize the importance of the topics to education. "We are considering two bills included in the Republicans’ Commitment to America. Passage of both will send a strong message: We are making good on our promises," said committee Chair Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.
Democrats however, said the lawmaking efforts were political maneuvers that distract from students' academic recovery, mental health supports and access to free school meals.
"The majority has chosen to use our first markup to advance their own political agenda by politicizing students’ education and scapegoating some of our most vulnerable students as the cause of inequity in athletics," said committee ranking member Bobby Scott, D-Va.
Here's how the at-times emotional debate carried out:
Women in sports
The two-page bill, which has 76 co-sponsors, aims to ensure that compliance with Title IX relies on the recognition that a student's sex is based on reproductive biology and genetics at birth. Specifically, it would bar federally funded school and college athletic programs from allowing biological males to participate in women's or girl's sports.
"It is a sad reflection on society that the federal government must step in to protect our nation's young women," Foxx said.
Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, said he wants to see girls and women benefit from the protections of Title IX. "Allowing biological men to compete in women's sports not only eclipses women, but essentially erases them from the winner's circle altogether."
Owens added: "You can't let young girls continue to suffer just to be on the safe side of political correctness."
Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., said the intent of Title IX is to give more opportunities to girls. "Ignoring the biological differences between men and women is a catastrophe for our girls and women," she said.
But committee Democrats saw the issue differently. They said allowing transgender students to compete on athletic teams that match their gender identities is in fact a protection of Title IX. The U.S. Department of Education recently issued a resource document on Title IX and athletic opportunities in K-12 but did not directly address policies for transgender students. The department is expected to release guidance on transgender student athletic participation soon.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said including transgender youth in athletics is in line with a 2020 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, which gave protections under federal employment law to LGBTQ workers.
Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., said data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show only a small fraction of athletes are transgender. According to research published by the National Library of Medicine, 82% of transgender individuals have considered suicide and 40% have attempted suicide, with transgender youth having the highest rates of suicidal ideation. More efforts should be made to include all students in school activities, she said.
In asking lawmakers to reject efforts to exclude transgender students from athletics, Hayes encouraged her fellow lawmakers to remove the word "trans" and instead insert "disabled, or Black, or native, or any other group you can think of, and then ask yourself how comfortable you are with discriminating against them."
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., suggested the bill be renamed "Stigmatizing Vulnerable Children Act." Her amendment failed along a party line vote.
This proposal, with 111 co-sponsors, would require schools to make their curricula public, provide parents with a list of library books, and offer twice-a-year parent-teacher meetings. It would also bar the sharing of student data with ed tech companies without parental permission.
Saying parents' voices in educational decisions have been stifled, Republican lawmakers said parents deserve a greater role in school decision-making.
Rep. Julia Letlow, R-La., who first introduced this bill in the last Congress, said the proposal isn't meant to be complex or polarizing. "This bill is about one simple and fundamental principle: Parents should always have a seat at the table when it comes to their child's education," Letlow said.
Letlow accused Democrats of not wanting schools to be accountable and transparent to parents. Her bill, she said, would be a foundation for building productive partnerships between parents and educators.
Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., however, said the proposal would "further pit parents against teachers."
Adams added that the proposal "sends our school systems down a slippery slope of mandates, many of which are already included in federal law."
Democrats on the committee said they encourage parental involvement in their children's education but called the proposal "vague," "toxic," "duplicative," and "misguided." They also said the legislation does nothing to address more pressing issues in education, such as school violence, student mental health and academic outcomes.
Additionally, Democrats accused Republicans of not understanding the realities of what happens in schools. They said these parental involvement policies should be determined by localities and called it "ironic" that conservatives, who typically advocate for less government reach, were attempting to dictate local governance.
"Let's be honest with what this is. This is another attempt to attack our public school infrastructure in support of a privatization agenda," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.
But Miller said parents have been shut out and shouldn't have to feel intimidated by voicing their concerns about school activities. "Parents have the right to know what's being taught to their child and the right to protect their child's privacy," Miller said. "Parents, not radical left wing activists, are the decision makers for their children.”