GOP Ideologues Keep Flopping In Their Efforts To Take Over School Boards

Conservative Republicans running for school boards in North Carolina and New York overwhelmingly lost their elections Tuesday night, the latest sign that the GOP’s effort to wage a sweeping anti-LGBTQ, anti-Black culture war on public schools is failing.

In North Carolina, a slate of five right-wing ideologues ran together in Durham’s nonpartisan school board election, under the phrase “Better Board, Better Schools, Better Futures.” All were hoping to unseat Democratic incumbents. All were defeated in a landslide.

These candidates included Joetta MacMiller, who attended the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington, D.C.; Curtis Hrischuk, who spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about George Soros; and Gayathri Rajaraman, who told INDY Week that she didn’t think students should learn about topics like historical racism, gender identity or politics.

None of these five candidates got endorsements from Durham’s three most influential political action committees. And as INDY Week put it, this was likely because some of these people “might be best described with the letter Q followed by ‘Anon,’” a reference to the bonkers conspiracy theory about a shadow government of Democratic pedophiles being at war with former President Donald Trump.

In New York, right-wing school board candidates who opposed diversity training, sex and gender education, and pandemic protocols were similarly trounced on Tuesday. There were at least 35 of these candidates in the Capitol Region alone, according to The Times Union, which reports largely on Albany and its suburbs. As of late Tuesday night, 27 of them had lost and four had won, with a handful of districts still reporting results.

These races generated a “huge swell in turnout,” reported the Times Union, which it attributed to parents’ strong rejection of right-wing “take back our schools” candidates.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says progressive school board candidates are overwhelmingly winning elections nationwide because parents actually care about their children learning true things at school.

Paul Morigi via Getty Images

These candidates are part of a nationwide push by conservatives to change the ideological make-up of public school boards — something they claim is necessary to keep books out of classrooms that acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people and address historical racism. Prominent Republicans and right-wing media have propagated these candidates’ claims. Well-funded front groups like Moms for Liberty, which has pushed for banning “anti-American” books about Martin Luther King Jr., give money to these candidates. In some cases, GOP-led state legislatures have passed laws to give right-wing school board candidates an electoral advantage over Democrats.

For all their efforts, though, conservatives keep flopping in these races. In fact, the candidates in Tuesday’s elections were almost always the lowest vote-getters in their races.

“The attempt to cloak book bans and censorship as a parent issue is not working,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “What is happening is that the pro-public education forces — which include the overwhelming number of parents who send their kids to public schools — want to have a safe and welcoming and high-quality environment for their kids. They want their kids to have critical thinking skills. They want their kids to distinguish fact from fiction, to be taught accurate history.”

It’s a trend that’s been playing out for months. Earlier in May, conservative school board candidates all across Montana overwhelmingly lost. Progressive school board candidates trounced in New Hampshire in March, even in conservative towns. In Wisconsin, the results were mixed, but a number of conservative candidates lost despite significant funding. In the town of Eau Claire, for example, all three right-wing school board candidates who ran on anti-LGBTQ platforms lost to incumbents and their allies.

Weingarten said Tuesday’s New York election results are a good bellwether for how school board races are likely to continue playing out nationally, since these elections took place in heavily conservative and heavily Democratic districts all over the state.

“You saw the same exact results,” she said. “You saw that basically 99% of school budgets went up, and you saw 86% of the candidates that the [New York State United Teachers] endorsed, who were pro-public education candidates, win.”

“The attempt to cloak book bans and censorship as a parent issue is not working.”

– Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers

It’s not to say that school board candidates who run on an anti-diversity, anti-LGBTQ platforms always lose.

Earlier this month, all but one of the 11 Tarrant County conservative school board candidates won their races in Texas. Here, candidates said they would use their board seat to prevent students from learning about racism and LGBTQ issues, which some parents in this very conservative county described as “pornographic.”

And conservatives celebrated in November when, in Virginia, their strategy of generating outrage over public schools teaching children about critical race theory — a college-level academic discipline that examines racism as an everyday experience for people of color and that is not taught in K-12 public schools — helped the GOP sweep statewide offices.

But even then, bashing the idea of children being taught that structural racism has shaped the country’s legal and social systems for centuries (which, again, was not even being taught) wasn’t a clear winner for conservative school board candidates.

“Notice how quiet the right-wing is about these elections,” Weingarten added.

“We need parents and teachers to have more of a voice in schools,” she said. “But the cloaking of an anti-public school agenda as somehow ‘pro-parent’ is being seen through.”

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