As we’ve been seeing in elections over the last year, education issues have become hot-button concerns for parents. In Virginia, parents altered the political landscape and elected Glenn Youngkin governor. Youngkin had been given little chance against the “traditional” Democrat, former governor Terry McAuliffe — until McAulliffe made several gaffes about education that sealed his fate.
But it’s what’s happening nationwide that leads pollsters to believe that education has become a “single issue” that might cause voters to cross party lines and vote for the candidate whose policies on education reflect their own.
Education has rarely been at the forefront of political campaigns. This year might be different.
— New polling released today by a top national charter school booster says education is now a more important political issue to parents and guardians of school-age children than it was in the past.
— In all, 83 percent of voting parents said education is more important to them. The trend was especially apparent among Black parents and parents of children with special needs, according to the national survey of roughly 5,000 parents conducted May 19–31 by The Harris Poll on behalf of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
You can bet that getting an earful of what many schools were teaching their children about race and sexual identity led parents to take nearly unprecedented interest in the curricula that were being used. For some parents, it looked an awful lot like brainwashing. Others objected to the characterization of their children as “oppressors.” Still others saw their role as arbiters of their child’s moral development replaced by teachers and administrators.
Naturally, Democrats and their allies in the educational institutions objected. How dare these parents presume to know what’s best for their child?
Education is now a ready-made GOP issue that could attract many voters heretofore reluctant to vote Republican.
— Voters’ education concerns traditionally take a backseat to economic and healthcare-related issues, particularly in federal races, even as school-centered worries grow in importance. Yet the latest poll also hints that voting parents have a significant interest in casting ballots for someone outside their own political party, as long as they agree with that candidate’s education platform. The pollster concluded parent willingness to vote for someone outside their party was high for all political affiliations but particularly strong among independent voters.
— Consider the timing of those opinions. As the United States commemorates slavery’s end inside its borders and estimates point to growing numbers of youth who identify as transgender, potent fights over race and sexuality continue to help animate campaigns in key states. But some Democrats say cultural concerns distract from what persuadable, education-motivated voters really want. Former President Donald Trump’s education secretary is meanwhile urging conservatives to promote school choice as part of their message.
Of course, Democrats claim the cultural issues “distract” from other issues. That’s because, in most states, they’re losing that cultural battle.
It’s not a slam dunk issue for the GOP. But in addition to the cultural controversies, there’s the charter school issue that resonates very much with minority communities. And as we’ve seen in San Francisco, merit-based admissions to high-achiever schools and classes can turn an election against the radicals.
Education as an issue will play best in the heartland, where there are still parents who see school as a way to step up the ladder and not as an opportunity to indoctrinate and brainwash children.