In 2021, education became a key campaign issue in state elections around the country, with victories like Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia gubernatorial win illustrating voters’ willingness to select candidates based on their willingness to boldly confront the failures of the education establishment.
In 2022, the focus is more local, as activists turn toward school board elections to bring about meaningful conservative reform. National organizations like Moms for Liberty have emerged to help recruit and support conservative candidates for local board races.
Local groups have emerged as well, and in some cases incumbent board members are facing their first serious opposition in years on this November ballot. In Louisville, a slate of reform-minded school board candidates is running on a platform to empower parents against the education establishment in Kentucky’s largest city. But enthusiasm is not limited to Louisville as there will be numerous competitive school board races across the state.
These candidates represent the enormous frustration of so many voters who have felt ignored and disempowered in recent years when it comes to taxpayer-funded education. When schools were closed down and mask mandates enforced on children, local boards of education were often unresponsive and sometimes hostile to parents who voiced concerns. The media demonized parents and local citizens as extremists for daring to ask questions about the curriculum and instructional materials being used in local schools or pornographic materials in school libraries.
Meanwhile, state-level lawmakers refuse to pass all but the weakest possible school choice legislation that would give families an option to select a different education setting for their children. Some local boards of education even used taxpayer money to try to stop school choice programs from becoming law.
The answer, at least in the short run, is to wrest control of local boards away from those who relentlessly defend the education status quo. Kentuckians should carefully study the candidates for local board of education races and vote for those who support instructional transparency, high-quality curriculum, and a respect for parent voices.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty has assembled a set of model school board policies that could provide a ready-made agenda for these candidates. Included are policies that require schools to make instructional and professional development materials available for public review, give parents notice and allow them to opt their children out of personally intrusive surveys, ensure that parents have the final say over students’ names and pronouns, and to protect the rights of school district employees to express their political views in non-school settings.
Other model policies concern student discipline, access to student records, and board-superintendent communication, among others.
Kentuckians should identify and support school board candidates who endorse these ideas, and use the ideas found in the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty model policies as an agenda for long-term, district-level activism.
Public schools don’t belong to professional educators. They belong to the people. And it’s time for the people to have a voice in local boards of education.
Gary W. Houchens, PhD, is professor of education administration at Western Kentucky University and a policy advisor for Commonwealth Educational Opportunities. He served on the Kentucky Board of Education from 2016-2019.