Tag Archives: School board elections

What If…

What if the rational majority of Americans decided to reject the nation’s culture warriors and their grievances? What if they went to the polls and rejected the candidates who were appealing to their fears and biases?

What if the gratifying results of the country’s school board races that took place earlier this month in several states were “leading indicators” of that rejection?

The above link will take you to a Politico article headlined, “Why GOP Culture Warriors Lost Big in School Board Races this Month,” and it began with the following paragraphs:

Amid all the attention on this month’s elections in Wisconsin and Illinois, one outcome with major implications for 2024 flew under the national radar: School board candidates who ran culture-war campaigns flamed out.

Democrats and teachers’ unions boasted candidates they backed in Midwestern suburbs trounced their opponents in the once-sleepy races. The winning record, they said, was particularly noticeable in elections where conservative candidates emphasized agendas packed with race, gender identity and parental involvement in classrooms.

The article went on to suggest that the results ought to serve as a warning to the Republican presidential hopefuls who are emphasizing those culture-war themes.(Trump, DeSantis et al are unlikely to heed that warning. Culture war is all they have.)

Appeals to racial and religious grievance might play well in Republican primary elections, but a variety of indicators–including this one–raise the likelihood that General election voters will be less interested in crusades against critical race theory, transgender students and Black Lives Matter activists than they are in a working government, just as the recent school board elections brought out voters more interested in funding schools and ensuring that students are safe than empowering aggrieved parents to censor what goes on in the classroom.

“Where culture war issues were being waged by some school board candidates, those issues fell flat with voters,” said Kim Anderson, executive director of the National Education Association labor union. “The takeaway for us is that parents and community members and voters want candidates who are focused on strengthening our public schools, not abandoning them.”

A recent column by Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect considered a radical idea: What If we fixed the public schools rather than destroying them?

Watching the news, you might think that teachers are the most disrespected workers in America. Reading state budgets, you might think they’re the most underpaid.

That first assertion is true only if you limit your intake to the anti-teacher jihads that the right is currently waging. As poll after poll makes clear, however, the great majority of Americans actually think well of their teachers—and perhaps even more important, support their freedom to teach. If anything, the polling here is even more lopsided. As one recent CBS News/YouGov poll showed, when asked if books used in public schools should “ever be banned for criticizing U.S. history,” fully 83 percent of the public answered “no.”

Meyerson’s column began by listing numerous, thorny problems currently confronting American public education, and noted that those challenges had been addressed in a recent, major address by Randi Weingarten, the current President of the American Federation of Teachers.

The right’s current attacks on public education, she began, have to be viewed as an effort to destroy it. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s universal voucher program, which he signed into law on Monday, will reduce support for his state’s public schools by $4 billion—this in a state, she noted, that already ranks 44th in per-pupil spending and 48th in average teacher pay.

After listing a number of the AFT’s current programmatic efforts, Weingarten concluded her speech by saying that “Teachers should have the freedom to teach, and students should have the freedom to learn. A great nation does not fear people being educated.”

To which I would add: a great nation doesn’t fear an electoral system that facilitates, rather than impedes, citizens’ efforts to vote. A great nation accedes to the will of its electorate, and declares the winner of each election to be the candidate who garners the most votes. A great nation doesn’t fail to act decisively when faced with evidence of judicial corruption.

What if, in addition to fixing our public schools, America’s rational majority voted to fix the nation’s democratic institutions?



I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means…

Not every policy change is a reform, and I’m getting more than a little annoyed by efforts to paint things like tax cuts and voucher programs as “reforms.”

I’ve explained in previous posts why the abominable tax bill currently being rushed through Congress isn’t “reform.”  In several states, including Indiana, theocrats intent upon taking tax dollars from public school systems and directing those dollars to religious schools have employed a similar tactic, cloaking those efforts in the rhetoric of “educational reform.”

Betsy DeVos has frequently referred to one such program, in a county in Colorado, in glowing terms, so it was really satisfying to learn the results of a recent school board election in that county.

On Tuesday night, the longstanding fight over a controversial voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado, appeared to have come to an end. In a local school board election that has found its way into the national debate over voucher programs, four anti-voucher candidates—Chris Schor, Kevin Leung, Anthony Graziano, and Krista Holtzmann—defeated reform-supporting candidates in a landslide.

According to the story in Mother Jones, Douglas County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. The school district is large, with 67,000 students.

As Politico has put it, the county “has gone further than any district in the nation to reshape public education into a competitive, free-market enterprise.” Since 2009, the board has successfully ended a collective bargaining agreement with the local teachers union and enacted a “pay for performance” salary system for teachers.

Its most controversial move, though, came in 2011, when it approved a sweeping school voucher program that aimed to give up to 500 students publicly-funded scholarships to attend participating private schools. The county’s voucher program was the first district-created program in the country. Ninety-three percent of the pilot class of scholarship recipients enrolled in religious schools, according to court documents. It sparked outcry from those who argued that it was a diversion of public money away from public schools. Over the next few years, the suburban district in many ways become a model for conservatives looking to reform education nationwide and the group of reform-minded board members received support from national right-wing groups like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

That generous financial support kept pro-voucher commissioners on the school board until an election in 2015, when three members were ousted by opponents of the program. The Board was still majority pro-voucher, 4-3, but their power was weakened.

This month, after a campaign that saw hundreds of thousands of dollars pour in from the Koch brothers, a Republican political committee on behalf of pro-voucher candidates and the teachers’ union on behalf of the anti-voucher candidates, the anti-voucher candidates swept to decisive victories in all seven races.

That voters were not swayed by the influx of money and rejected the voucher program was a great outcome. But here’s my beef. A spokesperson for the winning slate was quoted as follows:

“Students at every school, students at every grade level and students with varying needs, all of them won tonight because our schools can now continue the return to excellence that began two years ago, after it became clear that reform had failed our children.”

Reform didn’t fail. An effort to enrich religious schools at the expense of public ones failed.

If I learned one thing in law school and in the practice, it was this: he who frames the issue wins the debate. When political activists accept the other side’s framing, they are agreeing to fight on the other guy’s turf.

The word “reform” denotes improvement. Tax cuts for rich people at the expense of middle-class Americans isn’t “reform.” Robbing public schools in order to benefit religious schools isn’t “reform.” In both cases, it’s theft, and with respect to vouchers, it’s an effort to circumvent the First Amendment’s Separation of Church and State.

Call it what it is.