The U.S. Senate is addressing some big, important issues this month that have the potential to make a huge impact on American life. The senators speak on crime. They are talk about inflation. They talk about a new Supreme Court nominee. They are even talk about a potential war who could remake geopolitics in Europe.
But it is public schools and school boards that are at the center of the debate this election year, and for good reason.
Earlier this week, Liberal San Francisco voters ousted three members of their school board over claims, among other things, that school board members were more concerned about renaming schools than reopening them in safely in the midst of the pandemic. In Florida, it’s likely that a bill will pass that basically bans everything discussion of homosexuality or same-sex marriage for most age groups, and leaves undefined how it can be discussed at all, even though same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide for nearly a decade. And in school board elections across the country this spring, big money is expected to be spent on all sorts of reasons. Politico reported Wednesday that in Austin, Texas, parents formed a political action committee to raise $100,000 to defend two school board incumbents there.
The reason school boards and public schools, in general, are now where the hottest action is makes political sense in context. This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to government decisions on race and COVID, two of the most contentious issues in recent years. On top of that, it’s also deeply personal for anyone with a child in school.
Voters increasingly rank education as an issue that will influence their vote on Election Day. A VSLast week’s NN poll found 81% of voters nationally, education will be one of the main things they vote on in the midterm elections, behind only inflation and the economy and long before even COVID.
Polls like this go some way to explaining why politicians have focused so much on either overhauling education, as is on the right, or scrapping mask mandates in schools, like the Democratic governors have recently been eager to do so.
That said, a voter who says they will vote on education is not everything. The same CNN poll found that a third of those who said education was important to their vote had just a general position that schooling is important and has broad benefits for society. Only a quarter said they had a problem with curricula, including just 7% who mentioned critical race theory, a concept that generates many bills in conservative states.
Unlike the discussion on cable news about education, it is usually the people on school boards who have to make decisions about what will be taught, who will teach it, and what COVID protocols will be put in place.
This discussion of the impact of COVID on schools has divided the Democratic base. The separation is easy to understand. A NBC News January Poll found that 65% of Americans were concerned about the impact of missed in-person school days on children’s education. In the same survey only 51% of Democrats said they were more concerned about the spread of COVID in schools, compared to 43% who said they were more worried about children falling behind in school. San Francisco Mayor London Breed, a Democrat, even sued the Democratic-run school council in the hope of forcing him to open schools.
Meanwhile, Republicans are taking the conversation in a different direction by injecting culture wars into the debate and banning certain topics from public school classrooms.
America hasn’t seriously debated education policy at the national level since the presidential campaign of 2000. And this midterm year, there isn’t so much debate on the subject with two different sides. that it is a mixture of several conversations.
Nonetheless, schools and education in general are set to be one of the most talked about issues this election year.