Parents who never imagined running for office battled to win seats on local school boards last week — they won some but lost many. Their fiercest opponents were the teachers unions. Where outside national groups, such as the 1776 Project PAC, stepped in with funding to help offset union power, the odds shifted and challengers did well.
The media portrayed these races as culture wars, but that’s only part of the story. They were also struggles by parents to wrest control of the boards from self-serving unions. For decades, the unions have maintained a tight grip on who gets elected. No wonder school-district decisions — about budgets, masking, COVID closures, curriculum and teacher contracts — protect teachers first. Never mind what’s best for kids.
That needs to change. Albuquerque, N.M., winning candidate Courtney Jackson told a local newspaper, “The board of education should be the kids’ union,” not a puppet of the teachers’ union. Jackson decided to run after watching the board discuss when to end lockdowns. The discussion focused entirely on what teachers wanted, never addressing the kids’ needs. “Their interests were not brought up once.”
In Guilford, Conn., the Guilford Education Association, representing teachers, ran the show. In a questionnaire for school-board candidates, the union’s No. 1 question asked candidates to pledge support for “collective-bargaining rights.” Question 2 asked candidates to guarantee unions will be included in all discussions of the schools’ policies and funding and Question 3 asked candidates to promise to “oppose all proposals that would censor teachers from teaching about inclusion, diversity and equity.” What about the kids?
All five Guilford candidates who gave the “correct” answers won the union’s backing and prevailed on election night. Their slogan was “Protect Guilford Schools,” but their true goal was “Protect the Teachers Union.” One of the winners boasted of coming from “a long line of educators,” while another promised, “I will listen to our teachers, administrators and superintendent and respect that they act always in the best interest of our students and schools.”
Nearly everywhere, teachers unions use money and manpower to turn out voters. Challengers need to do the same. The three Albuquerque school-board candidates who defeated the union slate went to the local chamber of commerce, other small business groups and Republican Party allies for alternate sources of money.
When the results were in, the president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation predicted “a new dynamic on the board,” with some members actually disagreeing with the school district’s employees. Imagine that.
In Colorado’s cities, including Denver and Steamboat Springs, union slates won handily. But in Douglas County, Aurora County and Greeley Evans School District 6, challengers outspent the union and broke its monopoly. That’s one place where national groups, including the 1776 Project PAC, as well as statewide conservative groups, spent money.
Why the explosion in parental engagement this year? Parents sitting at the kitchen table listening to Zoom school saw what their children were being taught — and not taught. That’s what happened in Montclair, NJ.
There the mayor, Sean Spiller, serves as president of the state’s largest teachers union but also appointed the school board — a blatant conflict of interest. The board negotiates the teachers’ contract. Last Tuesday, the town voted by 70 percent to replace mayoral control with an elected board.
That’s an improvement, but electing the board won’t guarantee students become the priority. Not while teachers unions outgun local parents groups. Organizations like Moms for Liberty, now with chapters in 32 states, could even the odds.
Many school districts will elect board members sometime in the spring, instead of on Election Day. That’s by design to keep the public in the dark that an election is even happening and discourage turnout.
Parents and other concerned citizens have roughly half a year to gird for these upcoming contests. Tiffany Justice, a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, told a news outlet that “parents are going to right this ship, and this election was only the beginning.”
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.