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‘We can’t have 2 countries’: 2022’s elections foreshadow new divides in education – POLITICO


Berkeley County’s new school board chair stated a combination of academic declines, a lack of district cooperation with a sexual misconduct investigation and a frayed relationship with the state’s social services agency led board members to lose confidence in the district’s ousted superintendent.

Candidates who supported having race and sex-related curricula or Covid-19 safety requirements in schools won about 40 percent of the roughly 1,800 local board elections tallied by Ballotpedia this year, the organization concluded. Candidates with opposing views won about 30 percent of their elections, while hundreds of other races featured candidates with unclear views on the hot-button topics. Nearly one-third of incumbents also lost to their challengers on Nov. 8.

And the 1776 Project PAC saw a similar win-loss ratio. Its endorsed candidates won 20 out of their 52 races in November and 76 out of 124 for the entire year, its founder said.

Girdusky’s group spent more than $589,000 on advertising to boost conservatives this election cycle and endorsed more than 100 school board candidates in states such as Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

In Florida, 1776 PAC-endorsed candidates won 30 of 49 races, including 19 who also had the support of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis won his reelection in a landslide and made education — including the opposition of critical race theory — a priority issue.

Critical race theory is an academic framework originally developed by legal scholars examining how race and racism have become ingrained in American law and institutions since slavery and Jim Crow. The term is often used as a catchall phrase among conservatives critical of how race and social issues are being taught in the K-12 education system. Most public school officials across the country say they do not teach the theory, even in districts where lawmakers are seeking to ban it.

Yet Girdusky argued the 2022 elections showed critical race theory can be a successful rallying cry for Republicans eager to reform education. He pointed to Arizona, where GOP candidates for governor and secretary of state lost, yet Horne won after placing his opposition to the concept at the center of his campaign.

The 1776 Project is eyeing expansion ahead of next year’s school board elections, when 29 states will have education posts on the ballot, Girdusky said. He wants the group to recruit the support of elected leaders and work alongside parental rights groups like Moms for Liberty.

“You’re not going to defy the political gravity forever — you’re not going to win everywhere all the time,” Girdusky said. “If we lost everywhere, all the time, you’d think maybe we’d pack it in.”

GOP polling and union-commissioned voter research earlier this fall concluded conservative attacks over history lessons and library books would not connect with most likely general election voters — and potentially alienate persuadable moderates and independents.

Neither party now has an advantage in being trusted to handle K-12 education issues, according to bipartisan polling of 1,200 midterm voters conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Impact Research on behalf of the Walton Family Foundation.

“These candidates are frequently putting their finger on real problems,” Hess, of the American Enterprise Institute, said of new conservative school officials. “The challenge will be when they have to do something about this in a hurry. School boards are lousy legislative bodies. It’s a very difficult forum in which to find common ground and promote sensible solutions. It tends to lend itself more to heated, high-profile efforts to change the direction of a school district.”

Forty-five percent of voters said they either trust Republicans or Democrats on K-12 education, while nearly one-third of independent voters said they trust “neither” political party on education issues. Majorities of voters and parent voters meanwhile believe public schools in their state are “off on the wrong track.”

“The fight is far from over, and we don’t feel like we can let our guard down,” said Heather Harding, executive director of the Campaign for Our Shared Future, an education group whose political advocacy branch endorsed 38 candidates on the ballot this November.

“We need people to pay attention to school board meetings and school board elections,” Harding told reporters last month. “What we are seeing is a political culture war being pushed into historically nonpartisan spaces.”

This content was originally published here.

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