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Parents at the Polls: School Choice in the 2022 Midterms

August 1, 2022

With three months until November, there is a lot of momentum behind the education issue heading into the midterm elections. As parents across the country have become increasingly frustrated with the public school system, they have proven that they’re ready to take their passion to the polls. According to The Epoch Times, a recent Republican event in Washington, D.C. reflected this fact as prominent figures on stage such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Trump Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway echoed the significance of parents wanting a choice in where their children go to school and what they learn.

In the past few years, the topic of education has received a lot of attention in the headlines and among concerned parents. For one, it has played a crucial role in several gubernatorial elections. Governor Ron DeSantis’s (R-Fla.) stance on school choice made him popular among African-American and Hispanic voters and ultimately helped him win the Florida gubernatorial election in 2018. In 2021, disgruntled Virginia parents were quick to vote Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) into office as he promised to champion “parental rights in education.” This year saw several landmark Supreme Court decisions such as Carson v. Makin, a case out of Maine that ruled in favor of religious schools, and Kennedy v. Bremmerton, which ruled in favor of a coach exercising his religious freedom in school.

With all the attention on schools, Brent Keilen, vice president of FRC Action, believes this education-prioritizing voter trend is here to stay. “There has been an unprecedented amount of energy surrounding this issue, and it doesn’t show any signs of going away this fall,” he told The Washington Stand. “Education seems poised to have a significant impact at ballot box in the coming months.”

The COVID-19 pandemic only heighted parents’ grievances as schools began enacting lockdowns, virtual learning, mask mandates — and also gained a peek in to curriculum controversies such as teaching critical race theory and radical gender ideologies in classrooms (notably in Loudoun County, Virginia). Many parents have frowned upon their daughters sharing locker rooms and competing in sports against biological males as transgender ideology continues to gain acceptance in schools.

“COVID pulled back the curtain a bit for parents when it comes to what’s happening in their kids classrooms,” Joseph Backholm, senior fellow with FRC’s Center for Biblical Worldview and father of four, shared with TWS. “And I think a lot of parents were disappointed by what they saw. So I think we have a moment where there is tremendous demand for alternatives to their government school. Some of it’s based on curriculum. Some of it’s based on the quality of education. And some of it’s based on the worldview that they know is being taught to their kids.”

Meg Kilgannon, Family Research Council’s senior fellow for Education Studies, agrees. “Parents were betrayed by schools that stayed closed unnecessarily during the pandemic. This is why you see parents demanding more options, and until they get those options, many parents and concerned grandparents are running for school board. Parents know that indoctrination is not education.” This is true of many parents, one recent example being activist father John Potter of Columbia, Missouri, who began rallying parents to pushback on their local school board at the start of the pandemic and continues to stay involved in the decisions being made about his children’s education.

Parents in Virginia, Missouri, Florida, and elsewhere care about the experience and education their children are receiving in the classroom. “As a parent, I feel like it’s my primary job to guide and supervise the education of my children. And it should be up to me to determine which environment is best for them, whether that’s academically or otherwise,” Backholm said. “The current system is set up so that the government gets to make that decision, unless somehow I have the means to afford to do something else. And choice is something that’s only available to those with the means to afford the choice, which means it’s not really choice.”

Backholm concluded, “What the public is coming to terms with is the fact that choice should be available to every parent and every child, and the government should not be the one making the decision about which educational system situation is best for a kid.”

Marjorie Jackson is a reporter for The Washington Stand and FRC's Digital Media Specialist.