Headlines about Tuesday’s election have focused on statewide races in Virginia and New Jersey. But we’re more interested in other contests. In Bucks County, Pa., where 31 school-board seats went to advocates of greater parental rights in education. In Bedford County, Va., where the school board chair lost to a write-in candidate who champions parental rights. In Texas’s Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, where three incumbent school-board members — with a combined 55 years in office — were ousted by newcomers championing parental control over kids’ education.
Now commentators and analysts are debating why, after years on the back burner, education is suddenly the issue changing our political landscape. Yes, some parents are invested in controversies specific to their districts — masking policies, critical race theory, sexually explicit materials. But suggesting that “school board moms” are only, or even primarily, focused on these issues is an inaccurate distraction.
Our movement is about something much more profound. Frustrated by an education system that has long put powerful interests above the well-being of students, parents are finally reclaiming our natural right to direct the education, upbringing and care of our children.
Two years ago, few would have imagined that schools would become the next hot-button political topic. But by spring 2020, the covid-19 pandemic had children across America distance-learning at their kitchen tables. Parents were suddenly within earshot of teachers’ lessons. Many were astonished to find that, instead of being simply taught reading, writing and arithmetic, their kids were being fed lessons on highly divisive topics of questionable academic benefit.
As concerned parents became more attentive to what was happening in their children’s schools — or, more often, to why children were being kept out of their schools — they came to realize that three groups define education today: teachers unions, school boards often handpicked by the unions and big businesses. None of them put students’ interests first.
The pandemic brought this into sharp relief. Internal emails show that the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers shaped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on returning to school — fulfilling their own wants, but perpetuating a terrible situation for students. In Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, the teachers union last year declared that defunding the police and imposing a wealth tax should be prerequisites for returning to the classroom. This summer, Chicago’s teachers union insisted the school district provide rent assistance for students’ families and fund a “restorative justice coordinator” for every school before they would resume in-person instruction.
The unions’ misplaced priorities are often embraced by school boards, which are frequently stacked with former union members or union-backed officials. The NEA and AFT rake in hundreds of millions in annual revenue, which fund aggressive lobbying and campaign contributions. They can summon millions of members to sweep their preferred candidates into office by knocking on doors, staffing phone banks and turning out in force to vote.
Then there are the conglomerates that milk billions from our education system and funnel those profits into lobbying for, and electing officials who will support, policies that serve their financial interests. From increasing use of their tests to embracing curriculums that require their textbooks, these policies give massive corporations — completely unaccountable to voters — enormous influence in what our children learn.
It’s no surprise that school-board members are often more responsive to these well-oiled machines than they are to less organized, and less well-funded, parents and students. Our kids pay the price: While districts devote classroom time to the latest ed-school fads, such as examining students’ “white male privilege” or instructingkindergartners about gender identity, test scores in reading and math recently declined for the first time in a half century, while achievement gaps by race and gender are growing wider.
Meanwhile, many parents — increasingly alarmed at these trends — have found incumbent education officials unreceptive to our concerns. School boards have moved to curtail citizen participation in meetings by limiting both speakers and speaking time, or by cutting off parents’ microphones for criticizing board members’ decisions.
There is nothing more frustrating than seeing your children denied the education they deserve and feeling powerless to change it. This frustration is what has mobilized parents across the country. Moms for Liberty, which we launched in January, has already expanded to more than 150 chapters in 33 states, representing more than 60,000 members.
Since then, we have been criticized for trying to hijack the democratic process by imposing the will of a disruptive, vocal minority over duly elected public officials. We see it differently: Far from subverting democracy, we are embracing what is best about it.
Unlike citizens of most nations, Americans elect education officials directly, at the local level, allowing communities to decide for themselves who will help in the formation of their children. But our responsibilities as citizens do not end on Election Day. We continue to hold our elected officials accountable, and if they ignore our input, we vote them out.
That’s what’s been happening in school board meetings across the country, and that’s what happened on Tuesday. Candidates looking ahead to next year forget this at their peril.