File-Indiana Speaker of the House Todd Huston

Indiana Speaker of the House Todd Huston, R-Fishers, speaks with the media recently. Huston announced he has tested positive for COVID-19.

(The Center Square) – Two of Indiana’s Republican leaders spoke out on issues in Indiana schools Tuesday, with Speaker of the House Todd Huston saying the legislature will take steps to make sure parents have more input on what is taught and Attorney General Todd Rokita telling a crowd outside the statehouse his office will issue a second “Parents Bill of Rights.”

In his speech to the Indiana House of Representatives on Organization Day, the first official day of the new legislative session, Huston said there’s no time in schools for anything but “focus and resolve.’

He cited the most recent ILEARN scores that showed 28.6% of students in the state passing both the reading and math sections.

The state, he said, is facing an “education crisis.”

“We’ve also heard from parents loud and clear,” he said. “They want to know exactly what’s being taught in our classrooms.”

He went on to say Republicans will be introducing a bill “ensuring that parents have more insight and input into the curricular materials and surveys being used in their schools.”

“A parent’s voice must be heard and respected, and we’ll ensure that’s the case,” he said. “We should always remind ourselves it’s so important that teachers and schools teach kids how to think, not what to think.”

Huston is a former member of the Hamilton Southeastern School Board in Fishers – the same school board that has heard from many parents over the last several months who are angry at the school corporation’s embrace of “gender identity” and race-focused politics and teaching. The neighboring school district, Carmel-Clay, has also seen heated school board meetings over the last several months with parents upset about the mask mandates and what they term pornographic passages in books in school libraries.

On Tuesday, Huston began talking about education by reminding legislators that Republicans included a $1 billion increase in funding for K-12 schools in the budget passed in April – an increase that he noted was primarily for increasing teacher pay. As a result of the increase, Indianapolis Public Schools is now paying teachers a starting salary of more than $50,000 a year, he noted, and several other school districts in the state have given teachers raises of $3,000 to $4,000 this year.

He also said the Indiana General Assembly passed expanded school choice in the last session, opening the school voucher program to allow most middle-class families to use a voucher to cover all or most of the cost of private-school tuition, if transferring their child from a public school.

“Know that we’ll continue to empower parents when it comes to their kids’ education,” Huston said. “Vouchers in the past year grew nearly 25 percent and now total over 43,000 students statewide. Clearly, there’s a demand, and we should provide as many options to parents as possible.”

Outside the Statehouse that morning, Rokita spoke to a crowd of citizens who had assembled for a prayer vigil and rally focused on opposing vaccine mandates and also Critical Race Theory in public schools.

“I saw, more than in decades past, parents being awakened,” said Rokita. “Maybe it was because they were sent home by the China virus. But they paid attention to what their children were learning in school through the computer screen. I don’t know if it was that or just some other awakening. But finally, they’re paying attention to how their kids are being taught.”

Rokita also talked about the family as the “fundamental building block of society.”

“And part of having a nuclear family unit that’s strong is paying attention and being primarily responsible for your children’s education,” he said. “If you don’t do that, then you let the state come in and do it. You let socialism come in and do it. And that’s what we’re seeing happen with this so-called CRT, this social-emotional learning.”

“By the way,” he added, “it’s not what you call it – you all understand that – it’s what being done to our kids.”

Rokita went on to announce that his office will soon issue a second Parents Bill of Rights.

“I don’t want us to look like Loudon County, Virginia,” he said, referring to the uproar in the suburban Washington D.C. county. “I want our parents to go in confident knowing what their rights are, know what their responsibilities are.”

“We published a parents’ bill of rights so you can take your country back,” he said, “And next week we’re going to publish the second edition of it that’s based on the feedback that you and other parents across the country have given us, that’s going to include what you can do in terms of your medical rights, what you can do about filing your own civil rights claim, if you or your kids or your grandkids have been discriminated against.”

He said there would be “additional versions” that will address religious liberty and other issues that “culminate in education freedom.”

“Because competition, just like in every other part of our lives, gives us better results,” Rokita said. “And if we could have competition amongst our schools, like this statehouse or these legislators have done a pretty darn good job of making sure that amongst the other states we have education freedom. We have that competition. We have education choice.”

Rokita issued the first Parents Bill of Rights in July. It articulates six rights: the right to question and address school board members; the right to question and review the curriculum; the right to have a curriculum in your child’s school that is aligned with state and federal laws; the right to participate in the selection and approval of state academic standards; the right to obtain materials and curriculum taught to your child in the classroom; and the right to run as a candidate for school board.