Local school board races becoming more politicized

Politics

(NewsNation) — While much of the media’s focus has been on the battle over the balance of power in Congress, it’s the smaller, local-level races on which many political groups are focusing.

School boards, the once nonpartisan local groups that dealt with hiring and firing school staff and setting curriculum, are the new battlegrounds.

Money and organizational resources are being funneled into these races. And it’s happening all across the country.

For two weeks, school board meetings in Dearborn, Michigan, have been the latest in a series across the country where public speaking sessions are getting heated.

One session over several LGBTQ+ books at school libraries was forced to shut down early.

The sizable Muslim community said sexually explicit content is inappropriate for their children and doesn’t belong in schools. And the hyperlocal debate attracted attention from the state’s Republican Party.

“It’s kind of interesting to see them now coming into Dearborn and recording our votes, which historically has not happened,” said Amy Doukoure, CAIR-MI staff attorney. “We do have some people who are in our community are concerned about this book issue in Dearborn, and are sort of being pushed into the hands of the GOP.”

Similar scenes are being repeated across the country.

“We are seeing that, you know, the parents’ rights movement, even though it was once affiliated more with conservatives, it sort of has begun to include other, you know, maybe people on the left as well who are just upset with the idea of a school board having more control than parents over children’s education,” said The Hill national political reporter Julia Manchester. “So it’s been fascinating to see money poured into these races.”

It’s worked in Florida. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed 30 local school board candidates; 25 either won or advanced into a runoff with his help.

“We do that with every other race. And again, to me, it comes back to transparency,” Florida Republican State Rep. Spencer Roach said. “This issue is about giving the voter as much information as you can about a candidate.”

In California, a program started by the Republican Party called Parents Revolt is focusing on recruiting Republican candidates to run for local education offices.

In New York, a Republican political action committee says it’s trying to reform public education by promoting patriotism. The site actively asks people to report schools that are teaching critical race theory.

The tactic appears to be gaining ground in a moment where more and more parents want a say.

A recent NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll shows just over 90% of respondents say parents should have at least some control over their children’s public school curriculum.

Cassie Rose, a Tennessee mom of two, compared the situation to the way before school boards became polarizing and politicized.

“Now, there’s a side whereas before it was like, these were our kids. These were our schools. This was something that we could all work on together,” Rose said. “I mean, it really just has flattened the conversation into, like, a right versus left.”

According to Manchester, there has not been as much mobilization on the Democratic side when it comes to the school board elections.

And when it comes to the parents’ rights movement bubbling up now, the Democratic Party has traditionally had a symbiotic relationship with teachers’ unions.

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