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Donald Trump’s announcement that he will seek the White House in 2024 serves as a timely reminder that many of the high-profile candidates he endorsed in the 2022 midterm elections performed amid expectations that the policies he pursued as candidate and as president particularly in relation to educational freedom and parental rights, have proved immensely popular with the millions of Americans who disagree with the direction the country is moving but previously had no affiliation with the Republican Party. Candidates in the midterm elections who recognized that the tide was turning towards putting parents in control of their children’s learning and futures rode the red wave of parent-centric politics that was gaining momentum under Trump and will continue to do so, breaking in favor of the Conservatives.
In July, Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers released the results of a union-commissioned poll showing that a sample of voters in key swing states trust Republicans more than Democrats on education issues. These poll results represent a sea change from Republican performance in such polls in the past, and shatter the double-digit leads Democrats have enjoyed on education issues over the past several decades.
Conservative gubernatorial candidates with a track record of promoting policies that put parents at the center of decisions about their children’s education capitalized on that momentum in the 2022 midterm elections, successfully touting their victories over the awakened education agenda of Weingarten and other public school union leaders and sold their reform agenda promoting parental rights and freedom of education to voters weary of the status quo.
In August, 15 Republican governors issued a statement “reaffirming” their “commitment to parents and students” and promising to “ensure.”[e] Our students experience no disruption in their education and parents are free to choose any option they deem best for their child,” claiming that education funding “should be student-centred.” 2022 won their races. Seven of those ten candidates won a higher share of the vote in 2022 than in the previous election. (Another signer, Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, extended his lead over his performance in 2018 — the last midterm election he contested before 2022.)
LEILA CENTNER: DESANTIS’ VICTORIES IN FLORIDA EDUCATION CREATE A ROADMAP TO ELECTION SUCCESS
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis famously took on the unions, the educational institution and later the Biden administration by keeping schools open during the pandemic and signing legislation banning the teaching of gender identity and sexual concepts to young children. He saw his Florida winning margin soar from an unconvincing 0.3 percent in the 2018 election to an impressive 19.4 percent in 2022.
Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa has made freedom of education a priority in Iowa by drafting legislation that would create 10,000 school-choice scholarships and, when it failed, sponsored Republican elementary school students to help her challenge school union hegemony. Voters rewarded her with a staggering 18.6 percent lead over her 2022 opponent, compared to a narrow 2.8 percent lead in 2018.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia signed legislation earlier this year that doubled the cap on donations to the state’s School Choice Scholarship program and introduced a Parents’ Bill of Rights that requires schools to include educational materials used to teach their children parents to share. His margin of victory over union-backed challenger Stacey Abrams increased from an anemic 1.4 percent in 2018 to a crucial 8.5 percent in 2022.
Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial candidates faced the uncomfortable choice of supporting the unpopular status quo or risking the wrath of union bosses by supporting freedom-of-education initiatives. Some opted for the latter. In Pennsylvania, for example, Governor-elect Josh Shapiro’s campaign added language to its website supporting education savings accounts. In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis criticized the US Department of Education’s proposed rule change earlier this year that would make charter schools across the country significantly more difficult to operate. In Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker was forced to reverse course in October and support a state tax-credit grant program he attacked as recently as 2018.
In fact, data suggests that winning Republican candidates were buoyed by parental frustration at the ongoing school closures in their counties. In Fulton County, Georgia, where schools in Atlanta remained closed through May 2021, and in Chatham County, where schools in Savannah remained closed during the same period, Gov. Kemp has an extra four to five percent in 2022 compared to Donald Trump’s performance of voters stripped in 2020. Nevada’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak, who competed with now-governor-elect Joe Lombardo, underperformed President Biden by three percentage points in both Clark and Elko counties in 2020 — both of which remained closed for parts of the 2020-21 school Year.
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Beyond these gubernatorial races, candidates for statewide board of education won their races on platforms for freedom and parental rights. In South Carolina, Ellen Weaver won the race for Superintendent for Education with a promise to expand school choice and encourage “total transparency” for parents about their children’s education. In his victorious bid to become Oklahoma’s next Superintendent of Public Instruction, current state Secretary of Education Ryan Walters won more votes on a platform of opposition to politicization than incumbent Governor-elect Kevin Stitt (who also won his race and lead enlarged). Indoctrination in the classroom and promoting school choice. Conservatives won decisively in races for state board of education in Kansas, Nebraska and Texas with a promise to stop indoctrination in CRT and gender identity in state schools.
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The clear lesson is that Conservatives running for election at the state level can win with a solid political agenda committed to advancing parental rights and freedom of education, and by backing that agenda with solid victories over the unions and their progressive allies during their substantiate tenure. Conservative candidates who heed this lesson and pledge to counter the union command and control agenda stand poised to improve their performance in future elections. Progressives who care about union bosses — and political opportunists who don’t keep their campaign promises to expand educational freedoms — have a long way to go in a world that is leaving them and their weary politics behind.
To put it in a word, the political battlefield of education in America could be the very place where awakened die.