‘Too hyperbolic’? School board parental rights push falters
Conservative groups trying to elect hundreds of “parents’ rights” activists to local school boards failed to win in last week’s midterm elections. They won notable victories in some Republican strongholds, but did not gain widespread support from moderate voters.
Local school boards were once nonpartisan. However, they have become increasingly political in the face of racial, historical, and sexually-charged battles. Candidates who oppose what they consider “woke” ideology in public school have tried to take control of American school boards and change policies that are deemed too liberal.
Republican groups, including the 1776 Project PAC and Republican groups such as the Tea Party Coalition, have helped to boost the push. This was despite predictions of a red tide that would drive millions of dollars into local school elections this year. On Tuesday, however, only a third of the roughly 50 candidates were elected.
Moms for Liberty, another conservative group, has endorsed over 250 candidates with only half of them winning. Despite the resounding victories of Republicans, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Texas Governor. Greg Abbott was one of many gubernatorial hopefuls who were heavily influenced by parents’ rights, which fell short in several states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Kansas.
These results cast doubt on the movement’s political power and could be a problem for Republican legislators who want to support legislation on the subject. The GOP is poised to win a narrow majority at the U.S. House. Leader Kevin McCarthy has already proposed a “Parents Bill of Rights”, though the details are unclear.
Teachers unions and other liberal grassroots groups have also been attacking conservative activists with messaging and money, casting them as fearmongers bent on turning parents against public school.
Parents’ rights advocates transparency in teaching, but also calls for a wide range cultural stances. Schools are asked to get rid of books that deal with race or sexuality and to stop teaching history lessons that don’t reflect “patriotism.”
Ryan Girdusky (founder of 1776 Project PAC) said that activists should have placed more emphasis on academic issues in this election.
He stated that the messaging needed to be more positive. “Sometimes, you lose moderate voters simply because you are too exaggerated and don’t speak truth to something very local.”
The midterms were a complete reverse of previous elections in which parents’ rights supporters had won major victories. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who ran his successful campaign last January, stressed the importance of parental rights and won crucial support from suburban voters, one year after Virginia voted for Democratic President Joe Biden.
The 1776 PAC had won 75% of the races in the previous two years. This put dozens of school boards across America under the control of conservative candidates.
These victories can be attributed to the anger of parents over how schools handled the pandemic, which included long closures and mask mandates. The message shifted to the cultural divides which have sparked debates about transgender rights and racism this year.
Four candidates from New Buffalo, Michigan were supported by the 1776 PAC and four from the purple southwest corner. They faced four candidates favored in part by a teachers’ union. Two local newspapers ran full-page ads accusing the conservatives of supporting a school program which promotes critical race theory and sexually inappropriate material, as well as “anti-parent content.”
The ad stated that there was “NO Critical Race Theory.” “NO biological boys in girls’ sports.”
Local residents raised concerns about “furries” later on. This is a myth perpetuated by conservatives and claiming that U.S. students have been allowed litter boxes and given special treatment for identifying as animals.
Denise Churchill was shocked at the level of misinformation. She was one of the candidates supported by the teachers union. However, Tuesday saw her and her running mates win by large margins. The city also voted for Democrats at the state-level.
Churchill, who is married with two children, said that “truth prevails” and that hate does not win. She stated that the district always welcomes parent participation. “But parental rights doesn’t mean you can pick and choose what the schools teach.”
New Buffalo County, which is home to 1776 was a highly prized target because it voted for Republican candidates in recent elections for president and governor. They campaigned in eight districts for 20 candidates, but only four of them were elected. Union-backed candidates defeated many of them.
It also failed to win majority seats on the boards of conservative Bentonville, Arkansas and purple Round Rock Texas. Its largest victory came in right-leaning Carroll County (Maryland), where its candidates won three of the four seats. Florida has been a stronghold for the movement and all four of its candidates won there.
Some conservatives still saw positive signs in DeSantis’s and Abbott’s high-profile wins, despite the losses. Rory Cooper, a GOP strategist who was a former congressional staffer, stated that even the regaining of scattered seats on school boards across the country is progress for a Republican Party which has long neglected education as its priority.
He stated, “We are not seeing Democratic opponents go unscathed like they used to.” “I count this year as a victory.”
Democrats view the losses as evidence that while rhetoric about critical race theory, gender issues and other topics may work well in Republican primaries (which it did), moderate Americans are not likely to be able to take advantage of this.
“In general elections voters don’t want it to hear about,” stated Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic strategist who was formerly a senior advisor to President Barack Obama. “The overwhelming majority support their children’s teachers, believe in their public school system and want correct history to be taught in their classrooms,” said Stephanie Cutter.
Democrats are responding to conservative groups’ increasing involvement in local school board elections. Red Wine and Blue, grassroots groups that rally liberal suburban parents, have increased their spending on candidates in the state teachers unions.
However, in many cases, school board members who are facing conservative challengers have tried to distance themselves from any political affiliation.
Four incumbents in Coloma (Michigan), a small town near New Buffalo, refused to accept outside money while they ran against three challengers, supported by the 1776 PAC. All four incumbents were victorious.
“We didn’t speak about them. Heidi Ishmael (president of the school board) stated that they spoke about them. “I believe the school board is impartial. We are here to represent and listen to our entire community.”
Democratic strategists have maintained that approach — de-escalating power