The midterm results are not what Republicans hoped: The predicted red wave in Senate and gubernatorial races never materialized. However, a red undercurrent led to big changes for school boards and state superintendent seats across the country.
If you have never thought much about your state superintendent before, you are not alone. The job isn’t glamorous, and it is hardly ever headline news. But these people have real power: State superintendents, called commissioners or secretaries of education in some states, lead their respective states’ education departments, meaning they have a great deal of influence on K-12 schools.
Although most state education chiefs are appointed, seven states voted for their head of K-12 schools this cycle. (In an eighth state, Oregon, the governor serves as the superintendent but appoints a deputy to run the education department.) Of the six states with partisan elections for the office, five have elected Republicans and a sixth, Arizona, has a Republican in the lead. (The seventh state, California, chooses its superintendent via nonpartisan election, and incumbent Tony Thurmond held on to his office with the support of the state’s Democratic Party.)
Oklahoma flipped the office from a Democrat to a Republican who ran on a platform of kicking leftist indoctrination out of schools. In Arizona, the race remains tight, but Republican Tom Horne, who campaigned on keeping schools open and teaching a non-woke history curriculum, may defeat Kathy Hoffman, who campaigned with teachers union leaders in the run-up to Election Day.
In two states, Wyoming and Idaho, the incumbent Republican lost in the primary, and the newcomer Republican nominee won the general election. Both superintendents-elect campaigned on staunch opposition to CRT and gender indoctrination, pledging to focus their efforts in office on boosting academic performance. Their victories are a powerful signal that name recognition and party affiliation are no longer enough for a superintendent to keep his or her job. Voters in these races care about principles and about results. That is a healthy sign for an increasingly polarized country.
If the superintendent races proved that parents are passionate, the school board races prove they are organized. Parent groups notched major victories in school board races, even in blue states. 1776 Project PAC, which runs candidates who pledge to teach accurate and patriotic American history, flipped the school board in Brandywine, Michigan as well as Carroll County, Maryland. The Minnesota Parents Alliance won big as well, notching 49 victories in school board races. Charleston County, South Carolina is on track to have the majority of its nine school board seats won by candidates backed by Moms for Liberty.
When voters think only about education, they swing towards anti-CRT, pro-parent conservatives. This was not enough to get gubernatorial and Congressional candidates across the finish line in several toss-up races, but it helped make GOP candidates competitive in races where they otherwise would not have been.
With results like these, it’s no surprise that several of the night’s conservative victors gave a nod to education as they spoke about their wins. Gov. Ron DeSantis said in his victory speech, “We chose education over indoctrination.” Gov. Brian Kemp noted that, among other issues, his campaign was about “making sure our kids recover from pandemic learning loss, and get the best education they can in a safe welcoming environment free from politics or divisive ideologies.” Education used to get hardly a mention or two in election night speeches. This year, for conservatives who won their races, it got top billing.
In competitive statewide races, conservative candidates cannot win on only education, but they also cannot win without it.
Alabama Senator-elect Katie Britt declared 2022 “the year of the parent.” The election results for education offices are proving her right. The superintendent and school board races may seem small in comparison to the Congressional and gubernatorial showdowns we witnessed, but they add up to a big lesson: Pro-parent anti-woke education policies are a winning message for elections with the biggest impact on classrooms.