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Tony Perkins / April 28, 2022

GOP Schools Dems in Education Politics

The parents’ revolution in education is real. And Democrats ignore it at their peril.

These days, Democrats can’t even turn around without bumping into another poll that reminds them of the shellacking that awaits in November. The prophecies of doom are everywhere now, including the pages of their most reliable water-carriers: the mainstream press. At headquarters, where strategists wince with every Joe Biden interview, the hand-wringing must be at an all-time high now that they’ve officially lost their edge on a longtime party winner: education.

For decades, Democrats played the schools to their advantage, owning the space in practically every political way. But the tables have turned, thanks to COVID, and the days of playing parents for suckers are over. It took a global pandemic, but the blinders have been blown off. Americans are onto the Left’s ultimate goal of turning their children into the next generation of woke, LGBT, neo-Marxists — and they don’t like it. For suburban moms like Marianne Burke, a Democrat, the awakening came when Terry McAuliffe uttered the words that every liberal now regrets: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

“We were watching the debate and I said to my husband, ‘This is it. He better explain what he means,’” Burke said. But she knew what he meant — and so did every other Virginian that sent Glenn Youngkin (R) to the governor’s mansion in a stunning upset. The Youngkin Effect has only boomed since then, spurring Republicans to action in a slew of states, where conservatives see a real opportunity for connection across demographic lines. From parental rights bills and CRT bans to girls’ sports protections, conservatives are gradually chipping away at the trustworthiness of Joe Biden’s party on the issue.

Outraged parents are flocking to the GOP, desperate for an ally in this new wave of culture wars the Democrats have launched. “Republicans at the local, state and federal level are standing with the parents,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared. And it’s paying off. A CNN poll found that 81 percent of Americans believe education is “extremely” or “very important” heading into the 2022 elections. “For party leaders tasked with crafting midterm strategy, this development should set off alarms,” the New York Times warned, “Voters who feel looked down on by elites are now finding common cause with those elites, forming an alliance that could not only cost the Democrats the midterm elections but also fundamentally realign American politics.”

In most places, that shift is already well underway. While the Democrats are taking on water on almost every issue, it’s the education bucket that’s slipping away fastest. In a Morning Consult poll this week, voters were asked which party they preferred on education. Forty-four percent chose Democrats; 39 percent picked Republicans (17 percent didn’t know). But wait, you may be thinking. Biden’s party still has the advantage. Slightly, yes. (Even less slightly in other polls that have Republicans within the margin of error). But what’s significant here — and what is probably panicking DNC operatives — is how far the GOP has come. Historically, Republicans have polled almost 30 points behind the Democratic Party on schooling.

“NBC News-Wall Street Journal polling released last month showed Democrats had had an edge on this issue in every single survey it has done since 1989 — two dozen in total. Only on five occasions was the edge less than double digits, and never was it less than six points.” The last couple of years have turned that narrative on its head, making Biden’s party extremely vulnerable on an issue that’s cutting across ideological lines.

And for Democrats, who are on the defensive in places like Florida, the story is only getting worse. Leaders like Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) are seizing the opportunity by tapping into parents’ concerns — shattering fundraising records and bringing mega-corporations like Disney to their knees in the process. In other states, his courage — and others — is only fueling the pushback.

In states like Utah, Kentucky, Kansas, and Indiana, lawmakers are refusing to take no for an answer on issues that some Republicans would have considered radioactive just a few years earlier. Now, they’re leading legislative overrides to ban biological boys from girls’ sports, give parents a voice in education, and stop transgender indoctrination. Just last night, the Kansas Senate went four-for-four on bills that Governor Laura Kelly (D) rejected, including a girls’ sports bill and a Parents Bill of Rights that would give moms and dads the opportunity to “scrutinize classroom materials,” review student records, make medical decisions, speak at school board meetings, and contest graphic library books. “If we, in our state, are going to be serious about public funds that are supporting our public schools then our parents must always have a seat at the table,” state Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R) insisted.

Other governors, like Bill Lee (R) in Tennessee, are seeing a flurry of bills cross their desk to fight off the gender identity chaos Democrats have tried to force on districts. On top of a routine K-12 girls’ sports law, Lee also signed a separate measure that would withhold state dollars from schools who don’t comply. While he finalized that, Republicans also moved a step closer to making history with SB 2777, the groundbreaking pronoun legislation that would protect Christian teachers like Tanner Cross from losing their job if they refuse to play along with a students’ made-up identity. If it passes the state Senate (it’s already passed the Tennessee House), school employees would have the option to refer to the student by their biological sex without fear or discipline or “civil liability.”

“Obviously, teachers in schools can and should be required to act with professionalism and treat all of their students with dignity and respect. Nothing in this bill changes that obligation,” state Rep. Mark Cochran, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said. Even so, “Teachers and public school employees… cannot be forced to contradict their core beliefs or to say things they don’t believe.”

It’s all part and parcel of the grassroots sea change that started in local school board meetings and exploded to the highest pinnacles of government. By now, everyone should know: the parents’ revolution in education is real. And Democrats ignore it at their peril.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.

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