In 2022, our public schools have become a political battlefield. From limiting what students can read to restricting the topics teachers should teach, issues involving K-12 education have taken on heightened political importance.
In Texas, anger over mask mandates and school shutdowns has boiled over into attacks on intellectual freedom in the form of book bans, spearheaded by State Representative Matt Krause, and crackdowns on our history curriculum through Senate Bill 3.
With precision, energy, and money, right-wing forces are targeting down-ballot education races in Texas by fueling the culture wars. By placing divisive topics such as critical race theory and vaccine mandates at the forefront, conservative politicians are transforming grievance politics into electoral power.
The recent GOP wave of election victories in Virginia and strong performances in New Jersey should be viewed as warning signs, not simply of an apathetic Democratic voter base, but an empowered conservative coalition forming over grievances – both real and imagined – centered on K-12 education.
The progressive response must not lose focus on the big picture. For every heated school board meeting and every inflammatory remark that sways our attention, the war on public education continues to be fought over who receives our taxpayer money and what they do with it.
Today’s K-12 culture wars risk overshadowing other systemic battles that will decide the future of public schools in Texas. These battles will determine whether we will maintain a robust public education system designed for all students, especially our most at-risk.
Seldom do we read about our schools’ stranded costs resulting from where our taxpayer money flows, from private school vouchers to charter schools. Little do we hear about Charter Schools Now, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit dedicated to electing politicians who will approve, expand, and fund charter schools, no matter their quality, for private interests.
And rarely do we organize to exert influence on all the mechanisms of power, including lesser-known entities such as the Texas State Board of Education.