Back-to-school should be a season of excitement and optimism for families. But this year, too many parents are worried and anxious.

One big worry is learning loss and academics. Our government K-12 schools spend twice as much per pupil as we did back in the 1960s, but kids are retaining less and less. Reading, math and standardized test scores are the lowest we’ve seen in decades. Fewer than one-in-three eighth graders can read at grade level.

Then there is the staggering, underdiscussed crisis in youth mental health. Youth depression and suicidal behavior had already skyrocketed before the Covid lockdowns made things even worse. One physician recently said her ER has gone from seeing 30 kids a month for emergency psychiatric issues to 30 every single day. Some of the patients are as young as six. What is happening in a country and a culture where kindergarteners need professional treatment for anxiety and depression?

And millions of families of faith feel they are being targeted and under siege. The radical left is bringing an aggressive culture war to the doorsteps of families who just want to be left alone. Catholic, evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim parents are watching their tax dollars spent on lessons and library books that contradict their deepest beliefs and deny basic truths about human nature that everybody agreed on until just recently.

These circumstances call for an all-out campaign to champion, support and empower parents. But President Biden and his party are doing the opposite. Teachers’ unions, Big Tech, and the Biden Democrats are on a mission to make parents less important.

President Biden recently claimed that kids don’t belong to their parents, they belong to everybody. His Department of Justice and FBI targeted concerned parents who speak up at school board meetings as if they were domestic terrorists. They’ve proposed a government takeover of early childhood that would raise pre-K costs and hurt church daycares. This spring, when the House took up a commonsense parents’ rights bill, zero Democrats supported it and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called it “fascism.” 

The good news is that the solutions are simple. I have a plan to protect kids and empower parents throughout our society — from the classroom to the locker room to the smartphone.

Let’s start with education. I’ll sign a sweeping Parents’ Bill of Rights that gives full transparency into how your tax dollars are being spent to teach your child. And families will have strong conscience protections and opt-out rights if you see radical propaganda you don’t like. We’ll raise test scores by doubling down on the basics, like phonics, math, real civics and financial literacy. We’ll stop the far left from doing China’s work for them by attacking honors courses and SATs in the name of “equity.” And I will be the president who destroys victimhood culture and leverages federal funding to get the hope-stealing lies of critical race theory out of K-12.

We need the ABCs, not CRT. Education, not indoctrination.

It won’t be easy. But I will stand toe to toe against the high-paid union bosses who have spent decades resisting reform and blocking the schoolhouse door. These unelected bureaucrats spent the pandemic locking kids out of the classroom, and now they’re locking kids out of their futures. We must break the back of the teachers’ unions.

Opportunity and school choice are personal to me. I was raised by a single mother and my grandparents in a tough neighborhood. I benefitted from dedicated teachers who refused to let their students’ ZIP code limit their futures. I will use the Oval Office to strengthen the rungs of that ladder for every student. I’ll work with Congress to take the school choice revolution nationwide. We need to put each student’s funding in a backpack that follows them to whatever school fits them best. And I’ll stop discrimination against homeschool families and support them with fair and equal access to 529 plans.

Empowering parents also goes beyond education. We need to rebuild a family-first culture that lets girls and boys be girls and boys, not guinea pigs for grown-ups’ social experiments.

I will save girls’ sports and reverse Joe Biden’s decision to let men “identify” their way into girls’ locker rooms. I will strip taxpayer dollars from any school where grownups help children try to change their names, pronouns or genders while keeping parents in the dark. No counselor, pharmacist or any other adult should be able to administer medical treatment to minors without parental consent. The fact that this is even controversial shows how radical the far left has grown.

Finally, we can’t address youth mental health without taking a long, hard look at Big Tech. Who really believes that a healthy society should give big companies and adult strangers unsupervised access to its kids? As president, I will sign a landmark new law that makes social media companies verify users’ ages and require parental consent for kids under 14. We’ll make tech companies do more to build guardrails around explicit content, safeguard private information and create new monitoring and management tools for parents. I will fight for a commonsense carveout in tech companies’ special legal immunity when it comes to cases of exploited children. And I’ll require country-of-origin labeling on every app. 

I am living proof of the amazing power of parenting. I was blessed with grandparents and a mother who prayed for me, molded my character and passed down priceless lessons. 

I will use the Oval Office to turn the far left’s war on parents upside-down. I’ll give 21st-century parents 21st-century tools and solutions and empower them in every way possible.

We need to give every family a choice and every parent a voice so that every child has a chance.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina is running for the Republican presidential nomination.

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