(NEW YORK) — A progressive group plans to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into an effort to elect hundreds of left-leaning school board members across the country — underscoring how those local races are increasingly drawing the attention of noted advocacy groups and politicians.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) on Friday launched the “Save Our School Boards” campaign to boost more than 200 aligned school board candidates in the upcoming cycle. The group hopes to raise $450,000 to assist with collecting signatures to get on ballots, budgeting, sustaining grassroots support and so on.
Missy Zombor, a PCCC-endorsed and recently elected school board member in Milwaukee, said the support of the organization can be make-or-break for many would-be members, in part because of the scrutiny and competition the races are currently attracting.
“School Board campaigns are some of the most polarizing and difficult political campaigns right now and they are often run by brand-new candidates with little to no campaigning experience. Learning how to build a budget, obtain your voter file, communicate with the media, and prepare for everything else along the way can be daunting,” Zombor said in a statement to ABC News.
Educational issues have become more central to political discourse on the national level, especially on the right, since COVID-19-era restrictions upended schooling after 2020. That includes conversations about what topics are appropriate for which grade levels — particularly lessons around race and LGBTQ issues — and the best balance between the government’s authority in schools versus parents’ ability to decide how their kids are taught.
Last year, for example, San Francisco voters ejected three members of the city school board regarding COVID-19 and virtual learning protocols, marking the first time in the city’s history that members of the board had been recalled.
Focusing on these issues was seen by experts as contributing to the victory of conservatives like Virginia Gov. Glen Youngkin, elected in 2021.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for president next year, celebrated his own successful endorsements for a slew of school board candidates in his state in 2022.
“We were able to take school boards that had leftist majorities …. We were able to replace them all across the state,” he said then.
DeSantis championed “parents’ rights” through his Legislature, backing a sweeping and controversial ban on classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for most K-12 students.
Some high-profile Democrats are mounting their own campaign from the other side of the spectrum, as seen with Illinois’ Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s recent outlaw of book bans.
PCCC’s fundraising launch on Friday comes just a week before conservative nonprofit group Moms for Liberty holds its annual meeting in Philadelphia, where several Republican 2024 hopefuls, and Democrat Robert F. Kennedy Jr., are slated to speak.
Hannah Riddle, director of PCCC’s candidate services, told ABC News that she sees efforts from the right as “really serious and not theoretical threats.”
PCCC will be focusing its efforts in battlegrounds like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, as well as Illinois and Virginia, where several school boards seats will see vacancies, Riddle said.
Riddle said that pushing local races can have an impact on broader voter interest and turnout.
“It’s not only training candidates to run for office this year. But it’s also creating infrastructure that exists locally and allows us to build vertically,” she said. “Local races are going to drag a lot of people out to vote next year.”
“A lot of folks are feeling disillusioned by the inflammatory federal messaging that we’re seeing every day in the media,” she argued.
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