December 7, 2021
By Matt Beienburg

There’s a schism growing in America. On the one side are parents who are demanding to know what is being taught to their children. On the other side are politicians who are defending the status quo. Parents are winning the battle, and leftist politicians better take notice.

Look no further than Virginia, where former governor Terry McAuliffe’s campaign self-destructed in spectacular fashion after the now-failed gubernatorial candidate proclaimed that parents shouldn’t be meddling in their kids’ education. Following that trainwreck, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has taken McAuliffe’s rhetoric and translated it into concrete policymaking with his veto of the nation’s first academic transparency law—which would have allowed current and prospective parents to actually see what’s included in the curricula of their nearby schools by simply going online.

After Wisconsin state legislators overwhelmingly passed the legislation and sent it to the Governor’s desk last week, it was quietly vetoed Friday afternoon, as if to bury it in the waning hours of the week’s news cycle.

But writing in support of the legislation last month, former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had already warned of “the potential for a new fault line in America’s ever-growing debate about parental rights: a schism between policymakers who believe parents have a right to know what’s being taught in public K-12 schools, and those who do not… Hiding materials taught to children from their own parents seems a like line politicians should be wary to cross. We’ll see whether their big union funders push them to cross it.” Unfortunately, Governor Evers appears to have ignored this warning, issuing an extraordinary veto that leaves union politics prioritized above parental rights in Wisconsin.

Fortunately, however, when it comes to academic transparency, this veto perhaps heralds less of an ending than a new beginning.

Just last week, the Goldwater Institute joined a national coalition of organizations, including the Heritage Foundation and Parents Defending Education calling for academic transparency among the top-tier priorities for policymakers across the country in 2022. My fellow signatories, including Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute, likewise amplified the call for transparency of school curricula, releasing new model policy built on the Goldwater academic transparency framework. As Rufo summarized, “the next step in the parent movement is curriculum transparency.”

Now, with the release of the coalition letter, a broader set of voices have echoed this sentiment, declaring:

“Public school officials should give all members of the public comprehensive access in-person and online to school curricular materials including syllabi, lists of textbooks, and teacher-created assignments and books, worksheets, along with content that educators use for teacher professional development training sessions. Parents should be able to see, at-a-glance online, what their children are being taught.”

Such academic transparency will ensure that families are no longer subjected to bureaucratic and outrageously costly public records request processes simply to find out what is being offered at their nearby schools. 

Coupled with the other reforms called for in the coalition letter, including the expansion of Education Savings Accounts and the elimination of the toxic, discriminatory instruction of Critical Race Theory in K-12 education, these reforms will provide a parent-and-student centered path forward to policymakers across the country. Nearly a dozen states have already unveiled similar transparency initiatives for 2021 or 2022, with even more poised to join them across the country in the upcoming legislative sessions.

To read the full coalition letter and learn more about the opportunity for lawmakers across the country to finally bring full curriculum transparency to the parents and public of their state, click here.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy and the Director of the Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy at the Goldwater Institute.

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