Associated Press

How public schools got so political

School boards used to be an anodyne way to get involved, but they’ve turned into hotbeds of political activity. Education journalist Laura Pappano joins host Krys Boyd to discuss this evolution – which dates back to at least the 1990s – and how school boards are now ground zero for much of the culture wars. Her book is “School Moms: Parent Activism, Partisan Politics, and the Battle for Public Education.”


Moms for Liberty may be part of a larger political agenda

By Shaunessy Renker, Think Intern

On average, only 8% of school funding comes from the federal government and as a result, this leaves local school districts with a lot of flexibility in how they organize themselves regarding elections and curriculum.

Enter an organization like Moms for Liberty, labeled as “extremist” by The Southern Poverty Law Center and making headlines lately. They’re creating a lot of friction in local public-school communities through their participation in school meetings, running for positions in school boards across the country, advocating to ban library books, and challenging curriculum.

“We are talking about what has become a concerted effort to really destroy the very institution of public education,” says Laura Pappano, author of “School Moms: Parent Activism, Partisan Politics, and the Battle for Public Education.” “What they’re creating is this sense that their children need protecting from the very professionals—the teachers, librarians, school leaders—who are there to educate them.”

Pappano says the Heritage Foundation, an activist conservative think tank, conducted a survey in the fall of 2021 because they were concerned about the idea of indoctrination in American public schools. They worried that teachers tend to lean left in bipartisan politics, which is admittedly true, but more importantly that their left-leaning opinions were affecting what is being taught in classrooms.

“They commissioned a nationally representative survey,” Pappano says. “And what they concluded in the report was that ‘they found little evidence that a large percentage of teachers are systematically imposing a radical, political agenda in K-12 classrooms.’”

The Moms for Liberty organization strongly encourages their members to run for school board positions. Pappano says that voter turnout for school board races is approximately 10%, which means these positions can be very easily won or lost and that it takes very little to flip an entire school board.

“As far as what their goal or agenda is, I think it’s influence,” Pappano says. “They want moms to be dictating what’s happening in public schools. They want their far-right groups to influence what is school board policy, what is curriculum, and rules about what teachers can hang on their walls.”

At a CPAC meeting around 2 years ago, Steve Bannon pointed out that “school boards were the key that pick the lock.” Pappano says he was referring to the idea that if you can flip school boards mostly consisting of far-right candidates, you can take back control of the country, town by town, district by district.

“So the broader goal is to have moms serving and activated politically around things they care about,” Pappano says. “But they are doing so in service of a larger political agenda.”