Liberal parents are joining the school culture struggle, but conservatives are far ahead


Liberal parents are joining the school culture struggle, but conservatives are far ahead

Concerned about growing right-wing interest in school board elections, liberal parents are ready to fight back, but there is little national support and obstacles to fundraising and organizing. are facing

Over the past year, dozens of progressive activist organizations and political action committees have been formed or reorganized to counter the conservatives who have brought the struggle over the culture war issue into the school board race.

These liberal groups include the national initiative Red, Wine & Blue. The Florida Freedom to Read Project, founded by her mother of two in Florida to speak out against book bans. The Defense of Democracy, founded by a mother of two in Fishkill, New York, was unnerved by what was perceived as a Christian nationalist targeting school boards, but began supporting candidates and launched a campaign. signs and began training parents to advocate for diversity programs, transgender shelters and books. About racial conflict and LGBTQ issues.

But unlike conservative parenting groups that quickly garnered support from prominent Republican politicians, think tanks, and television commentators, these left-leaning parents have garnered little national political support. Prominent Democrats and many progressive organizations have largely avoided participating in the increasingly heated debates about race and gender politics and education in schools.

According to policy analysts and policy advisers, the job of organizing has fallen to liberal parents who are still learning how to be activists, often struggling to keep up with their more organized opponents. ing.

"It's kind of a drop in the bucket compared to what the Republican Party is running for," said Democratic election strategist and co-founder of Run for Something, the first organization to back progressive candidates. Founder Amanda Litman said: Make strategic bids to provide guidance and training to those running for school board seats.

In Orlando, a mother of two, angered by attempts to remove books from her school, launched a reading freedom project in Florida in November. They endorsed 11 school board candidates this year, and Jen Cousins, co-founder of the project and mother of one non-binary child, said she's been supporting her every weekend since July. being courted.

But she is frustrated. She feels inferior to Moms for Liberty, a conservative activist group founded in Florida last year. Moms for Liberty presided over the group's first national conference in July, where she has garnered support from Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis, who endorsed 30 school board candidates. The organization's Political Action Committee also donated her $250 to her 56 campaigns in Florida, as well as her $21,000 to digital outreach to companies run by Florida Republican executives. The campaign's funding record shows that it did.

In contrast, the Freedom to Read Project, first as a political action committee and then as a nonprofit, has raised less than $10,000 this year through small donations, Cousins ​​said.

"There will be more book bans, more resistance, and more demonization of LGBTQ+ children than ever before," Cousins ​​said. “It is an absolute right-wing radicalization of public education whose mission is to make public education fail.”

The Florida Democratic Party said it has been implementing a local government win program since 2016 that includes fundraising efforts and support for school board candidates. Of her 37 candidates endorsed by party leader Manny Diaz, a spokeswoman said 10 outright won her August, and she has 20 going to the runoff in November. added. DeSantis did better on his endorsement. Of his 30 school board candidates he endorsed, 20 won his August and five faced a runoff vote next month.

In the past, it didn't cost much to influence school board elections. School board elections are generally fair and often have low turnout. In a 2018 survey, only 9% of school boards said they spent more than $5,000.

But that is starting to change. Republicans in Republican-dominated states such as Florida and Texas have declared the school board to be the new battleground into which they will devote their time and resources. Texas-based cell phone company Patriot Mobile has pumped $600,000 into local elections to help conservatives sweep out school board seats in suburban Fort Worth. Even in the blue states, political action committees, the Reform California and Inland Empire Family, and Christian advocacy groups, the American Council, are working to recruit, train, and promote candidates for school board seats. I have spent many months.

More broadly, the 1776 Project PAC, launched in May 2021 by writer and Republican campaign adviser Ryan Girdusky, has raised 1.2 million to support conservative school board candidates so far this year. Gildasky said the PAC endorsed 113 candidates nationwide, according to the campaign's financial records support.

While the political animosity of recent school board elections represents a shift, Gildasky points out that schools have long been the subject of prayers, pledges of allegiance, and controversy over the content of textbooks. Until recently, conservatives have focused more on school choice than what children learn in public schools, he said.

Littman said Democrats were missing an important political opportunity by handing over the school board race to Republicans. A school board member who is actively campaigning uses her list of supporters' emails to support other candidates or capitalize on her own ambitions to reach higher office. she said. They may also be better known and connected in their own communities and serve as surrogates for candidates seeking state or federal status. — he's endorsing a bunch of these high school candidates — is really smart, connected with neighbors and friends who can stand up for him," she said. "It's a member of the school board."

Tina Descovich, co-founder of Moms for Liberty, refuted the idea that liberals are racially incompatible, pointing to the influence of well-funded teachers' unions. Moms for Liberty has supported nearly 200 of her candidates nationwide, but so far has only donated to candidates for the Florida School Board, she says Descovich. .

"We are very much like David," she said, turning to Goliath. “We don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars.

Public school riots began two years ago, with parents frustrated by school closures during the pandemic. As schools resumed in-person learning, conservative parents began protesting other issues, complaining about diversity initiatives and housing for transgender students, and criticizing books about LGBTQ characters and sex. I requested that the books I dealt with be related to the situation.

"There were many very good reasons to be concerned about school closures," said John Valrant, director of the Brown Center for Education Policy at the Brookings Institution think tank. We've taken advantage of it and turned it in different directions, and the Democrats have done nothing to counter it."

Valrant said education has been a triumphant issue for Democrats in the past, especially when the focus has been on school funding, teacher salaries and school safety. But several polls this year have found that voters trust Republicans more than Democrats when it comes to schools.

Some of the liberal efforts to challenge conservatives in school board elections are well established. Red, Wine & Blue, which has raised $56,000 through its Political Action Committee since its inception in 2019, recently moved from mobilizing suburban women to vote for Democrats to focusing more on the school board race. The group distributed a “parenting playbook” and held virtual training sessions. It was attended by up to 1,000 people and featured cameo appearances by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Amy Schumer, teaching "mainstream mothers" how to recruit and promote school board candidates.

But other groups are much smaller.

In Michigan, Becky Olson co-founded Support Forest Hills Public Schools in October 2021 and worked with a core group of 20 parent volunteers to expel school board members. I stood up to the conservatives who tried. November elections - about complaints about bus driver shortages and lessons about race and gender.

Support Forest Hills Public Schools has supported her three school board candidates from 13 fields vying for the four vacant seats. Olson said her coalition handed out 250 yards of billboards, put up 5,000 leaflets on doors, wrote hundreds of postcards, and spent more than $1,000 on Facebook ads to build a "bipartisan tradition" in education. We estimate that it has garnered support for three candidates the group said it would endorse.

“We don’t want to be politicians, we don’t want to campaign for candidates. And the important thing is that it's actually "supported by tables," says Olson.

The group's biggest competition in the crowded field is a list of candidates backed by local conservative activist groups, including the Mother of Liberty chapter, an organization that opposes mask and vaccine mandates. Candidate for governor of Michigan. Dixon has stood by his pledge to keep sexual and gender identity discussions out of K-12 classrooms.

Olson and her three co-founders got the idea for the Political Action Committee from the Coalition to Support MTSD, founded in Mequon, Wisconsin. The group was set up to combat protests against Covid safety protocols and debates over racial issues in public schools. Olson's group then inspired and shared materials with locals who began similar efforts in nearby Michigan cities such as Grandville and Lowell.

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