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Liberal Parents Follow Conservative Lead, Focusing on Schoolboards

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Over the past several years, conservatives have been expanding their footprint in schoolboard elections around the country, and Democratic activists are struggling to keep up.

This partisan shift on education issues, long the of province of the political left, comes on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, which eroded public trust and satisfaction in education, while illuminating education’s role as an ideological battleground. According to Gallup, the share of Americans who have a great deal of confidence or quite a lot of confidence in American public schools declined from 41% in 2020, to 32% in 2021 and 28% in 2022. Gallup also reports that the share of Americans surveyed who feel very dissatisfied with the quality of public education is up to 40%.

According to NBC News, Republican involvement in schoolboard elections has grown exponentially over the past few years. Left-wing activists such as Jen Cousins, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, have identified this political shift as a “right-wing radicalization of public education… [with a] mission to make public education fail.” For many parents, however, conservative leadership is fighting against a perceived radicalization of the American public school system. If left-wing activists are feeling left behind on classroom issues, it is probably because their message is alienating voters.

Democrats have historically led the polls on education, but data now indicates that the GOP is America’s trusted party for educational issues. After months of COVID-19 closures and rising scrutiny surrounding the way race, gender, and sexuality are taught in the classroom, parents are seeking more conservative leadership as a rejection of existing and expanding left-leaning administrations.

Around the country, the Republican Party and its affiliated groups are mobilizing to get more involved in local elections and the management of public schools, and it seems to be paying off. Meanwhile, the Democratic establishment has seemed to avoid the issue, leaving some local activists frustrated with the lack of support from party leaders and party funds.

Nonetheless, the left’s current messaging on education has already had an impact in key elections. Many credit Governor Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 gubernatorial win in Virginia to his focus on parents’ rights in education, even after Democrats won Virginia with stunning margins in 2020. After the outbreak of scandal in Loudon County, Virginia, parents flocked to school board meetings to express their outrage at the growing radicalism on race and gender in Loudon classrooms. Conservatives have argued that bathroom policies in Loudon County had enabled the sexual assault of a student by a classmate who identified as gender-fluid and were therefore allowed to use restrooms for any gender.

The revelation of this incident, and that the student in question had committed another assault at a different school while awaiting trial, was a breaking point in the political battle over Loudon County and education at large. Then-candidate Youngkin’s stance on educational issues made him a more attractive candidate to Virginia voters, even as his opponent  argued that parents should have no control over their children’s education. The political right seized on the issue of parental rights.

The claim that left-wing organizing lacks funding and support from the political apparatus is also not entirely true. NBC cited Tina Descovich, the co-founder of Florida-based conservative group, Moms for Liberty, who emphasized the massive influence of teachers unions in pushing liberal agendas in the classroom and on the schoolboard.

As GAI revealed in a report released this week, teachers’ unions are pouring millions of dollars into elections around the country. The unions play an extensive role in pressuring teachers to adopt radical elements in their curriculum, and in pushing for administrative policies that minimize parental voices in education.