Setbacks and new directions: How school board elections played out last week

Motivated by some of the most pressing issues among parents, like book bans, classroom conversation and instruction, this week was an opportunity for many to take hold of leadership roles in their communities and spark change.

Across the nation, voters took part in high-profile school board elections that many anticipated would trigger culture warfare as both liberal and moderate candidates hoped to gain control of their local boards. Motivated by some of the most pressing issues among parents—such as book bans, classroom conversation and instruction—this week brought an opportunity for many to take hold of leadership roles in their communities and spark change. Here’s what transpired on election day.

School board elections have quickly become conduits for district communities to address polarizing and perhaps controversial issues. In many races, candidates were backed by parental rights groups like Moms for Liberty. According to the Associated Press, these conservative groups lost nearly 70% of their school board races.

“They don’t want to engage in this banning of books or censoring of honest history or undermining who kids are,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told the AP.

However, according to reports, the 1776 Project noted that 58% of its endorsed candidates won, many of whom reside in conservative areas. Moms for Liberty said 44 of its endorsed candidates won, according to The New York Times.

As for those who were backed by key Democratic groups, including the American Federation of Teachers, which reported that 80% of its preferred candidates won, they’ve seemed to have performed better overall according to both local and national reports.

Board flips and flops

Despite how well either political ideology fared in their local board races, there were several instances where boards completely flipped. Others, however, remained unchanged.

Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, the third-largest district in the state of Texas, witnessed significant turnover as three conservative-backed candidates earned their seats.

The candidates, Todd LeCompte, Justin Ray and Christine Kalmbach, earned endorsements from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), State Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) and Harris County Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3), The Texan reports.

In a statement to The Texan, Christopher Zook, a consultant and spokesperson for the candidates, described it as nothing short of a momentous achievement.

“This is a major victory for the CFISD community and the state of Texas,” Zook told The Texan. “Flipping the third-largest school board in Texas is because we focused on empowering parents and getting back to the basics in the classroom.”

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Democrats also celebrated victories in states like Iowa, Connecticut and Virginia, which just earned Democratic control of its state legislature.

In Virginia’s Loudoun County Public Schools, for instance, the culture war hotspot is expected to hold its Democratic majority, according to The Washington Post.

But overall, voters didn’t seem to be too influenced by the cultural battles taking place in their districts, according to The New York Times.

“The results suggest limits to what Republicans have hoped would be a potent issue for them leading into the 2024 presidential race—how public schools address gender, sexuality and race,” The New York Times‘ Dana Goldstein writes.

The underwhelming turnout for Republicans, according to Goldstein’s interview with Jeane Allen, chief executive of the Center for Education Reform, might suggest parents’ hope to return to “some sense of normalcy.”

“She suggested Republicans might have performed better if they had talked more about expanding access to school choice, such as vouchers and charter schools, noting that academic achievement remains depressed,” Goldstein wrote.

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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