GOP lawmakers don’t support parents’ rights. But we should.

UPDATE: Gov. Holcomb signed SB 480 into law on April 5.

The mask is off. The idea that the Republican Party is concerned about parents’ rights has been revealed to be a charade. No one should take the claim seriously.

Indiana legislators made this clear when they pushed through Senate Bill 480, which bans gender-affirming medical care for children and youth under 18. It bans not only gender reassignment surgery – which isn’t practiced on minors in Indiana – but the use of puberty blockers and hormone treatment.

Indiana Statehouse

A headline in the Indiana Capital Chronicle tells it like it is: “Bill eliminating parents’ authority over medical decisions heads to governor.”

That’s right, SB 480 prohibits gender affirming care even when it is needed by the child and approved by the child’s parents and physician. It passed overwhelmingly in both the Senate and the House. Only three Republican senators and two GOP House members joined Democrats in voting no.

The bill’s supporters said they want to protect children from medical procedures that are “irreversible, harmful and life-altering.” But the consensus among frontline medical groups is that gender dysphoria is serious and gender-affirming care can be life-saving. As a Scientific American article explained, conservatives are using “junk science” to target a small and marginalized group.

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House speaker consults for virtual-school business

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston made headlines last year when he left his $460,000 job with the College Board after a controversy regarding legislation to restrict teaching about race. He’s now back in the news, with conflict-of-interest questions raised about his side gig as a consultant.

Indiana Statehouse

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported last week that Huston is one of at least 15 legislators who report on their statements of economic interest that they serve as consultants, sometimes helping businesses that work with or are regulated by the state. Huston started his TMH Strategies Inc. about a month after he left the College Board and lists two clients: Stride Inc. and the tech company Spokenote.

Stride, formerly K12 Inc., is a for-profit provider of virtual education that reported revenue of nearly $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2022. It operates seven Indiana-based virtual public, charter and private schools as well as several private online schools that may enroll Hoosier students, according to its website.

Indiana virtual schools got a nice little gift in the Republican-drafted state budget bill that the House approved in February. In recent years, virtual schools have received 85% of the per-pupil state funding that goes to so-called “brick-and-mortar” schools. The House GOP budget bumps that to 100%.

As a result, virtual schools would see their per-pupil state funding increase by 15-20% next year compared to an increase of 5% or less for brick-and-mortar schools.

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Democrats oppose textbook funding mandate

Indiana Democratic legislators are pushing back on a plan by House Republicans to shift the cost of textbooks and curricular materials to public and charter schools.

Rep. Tonya Pfaff

First to step up: Rep. Tanya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute. In a news release this week, she says Republicans are pulling an “accounting trick” that will cost Vigo County Community Schools nearly $1.4 million a year.

“Our state constitution promises tuition-free education for all students, and it’s time to make good on that promise for students and families,” Pfaff says. “But House Republicans’ budget is a bait and switch that saddles the Vigo County School Corporation will the cost of all students’ textbooks …”

As of now, Indiana is one of only seven states where families are charged for textbooks and curricular materials. The state pays for books and materials for students who qualify by income for free or reduced-price school meals, but all other families are on the hook for the expenses.

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‘Culture war’ bills target people

They call it a culture war, but it’s not culture that’s under attack. Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly have declared war on real people: teachers, librarians, students and, especially, trans kids and their families. They’re the ones who will be harmed if legislators get their way.

And several education culture-war bills have advanced at the mid-point of the session. Three are especially egregious: ACLU Indiana calls them part of a “slate of hate.” One would ban medical treatment for transgender children, one promotes book-banning, and another would force schools to “out” children over their gender identity.

Senate Bill 480 is the bill banning medical treatment for transgender children. It prohibits “gender transition procedures” for anyone under 18, barring not only surgery but the use of puberty blockers or hormones to delay developmental changes, even if parents approve the treatment. It’s arguably the worst of five anti-trans measures still alive in the legislature.

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