Conservatives aim to sweep state superintendent offices in November

These are the once obscure jobs that oversee the bread and butter concerns about academic testing and teacher certification – Together with legislatures and school boards , Now has attracted attention from big spending political groups and some of the most prominent names in GOP politics, including former President Donald Trump. The figures, once known for governing education budgets, are now part of a frontline response to parents who want a bigger role in classrooms and try to limit lessons about history, gender identity. and race.

“We are in a time where issues affecting education are seeing a high profile – and it is affecting a whole host of election circumstances,” said Paolo DeMaria, who most recently served as Ohio’s state superintendent. Retired in the U.S. and now heads the National Association of State Boards. Why education?

“If I am running in a state and I know I must submit a certain number of votes to win, that goes into platform-setting and representations made. …but the final question is how will you affect the overall success of each child in your state,” DeMaria said.

Trump tested his influence in a state sleep superintendent election with an endorsement. His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, contributed thousands of dollars to another campaign. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential contender, lent his conservative aura to candidates for local board races across the Sunshine State as he pursues re-election. Federal lawmakers are also getting in on the action by supporting their chosen candidates.

Largely on the defensive after Youngkin’s victory, Democrats have sought to intensify their response to waves of conservative legislation aimed at controlling curricula and what are described as parental rights in schools. But the polls show a persistent partisan divide among voters over key education concerns. Commissioned by Democrats for Education Reform, a school policy and advocacy organization, concluded this summer that parents and voters of color in dozens of congressional battleground states were significantly more likely to trust Republicans on education policy. .

California is the only blue state with a superintendent election this year, but race in these six Republican-controlled states will help seed the next phase of conservative education policy.

Oklahoma

wooHen Oklahoma Public School superintendent Joy Hofmeister found himself with a limited number of squabbles, switching parties to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt as a Democrat this fall.

It has sparked a heated battle to capture the state’s top elected education post, and a campaign that has caught the attention of the DeVos family.

Jenna Nelson, a Democrat and former state teacher of the year, will face Stit aide and state education secretary Ryan Walters in an election fueled by the cultural debate over the school curriculum. According to a recent poll, Nelson is holding an early lead over his conservative rival.

Both candidates are under pressure to address the consequences of a 2021 state law, which prohibits teachers from requiring such courses or teaching concepts that cause “inconvenience, guilt, suffering or any other reason” to any person because of their race or gender identity. types of psychological distress”. ,

Stitt tapped Walters, a former teacher, as executive director of the Every Kid Counts Oklahoma School Choice Group, as the state’s education secretary in 2020. Walters has since drawn attention with social media posts calling for a high school’s license to be revoked. teachers who resigned in protest of Oklahoma’s restricted-concept law and separately criticized a city’s school system”allowing pornography in front of your childrenWhen the parents demanded a ban on some books from its libraries.

According to campaign finance records, in July Betsy and Richard DeVos donated Walters to a maximum of $2,900 under state law for individual campaign contributions. The Prosperity for Conservative Americans group and other political organizations also reported spending a combined hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Walters this summer. Sen ted cruz (R-Texas) is another Walters supporter. In turn, Nelson has accused Walters of “planning with his billionaire funders to dismantle public education across the state.”

Wyoming

wooYoming’s state superintendent of public instruction was chosen by the local Republican Party, and won a prestigious endorsement from Trump for his re-election bid just days before the party’s August primary.

But Brian Schroeder will not hold the position next year. Megan Degenfelder instead won the Republican nomination by 3,565 votes over Schroeder – just four months after announcing her candidacy for office.

Republican Gov. Mark Gordon removed Schroeder from a list of GOP-nominated candidates in January to serve the remainder of former state superintendent Jillian Balo’s, when she left earlier this year to serve as Youngkin’s school head of Wyoming. left. Meanwhile Degenfelder served as Balo’s chief policy officer at the Wyoming Department of Education and as government affairs executive in the state’s mining and gas industries.

Degenfelder’s platform announces that it will oppose “anti-American curricula” and policies, work with local industries on workforce development, and empower parents as top decision makers in their children’s education. Sen Cynthia Lumis (R-Wyo.) has endorsed Degenfelder.

She will face Democrat Sergio Maldonado, a doctoral student at the University of Wyoming and longtime classroom teacher who has said he will “politicize the Wyoming Department of Education.” Maldonado has also been endorsed by the Wyoming Education Association labor union.

South Carolina

RePublic state superintendent nominee Ellen Weaver claims support from GOP Sen Tim Scott and Michelle Jays, A top education department official in the Trump administration, She heads the Palmetto Promise Institute, South Carolina’s foremost conservative think tank and school-choice cheerleader, led by her old boss, former Sen. Jim DeMint.

Yet Weaver is racing to answer questions about his eligibility to serve in office ahead of November’s election. South Carolina law requires superintendents to hold a master’s degree. Weaver doesn’t have one yet, but in April she said she had enrolled in a program at Bob Jones University to get one by October.

It is a notable footnote in a race that played out between South Carolina’s successful attempt to ban transgender students from participating in school sports teams that match their gender identities, and legislative efforts on race and history. Some call the teaching of the lessons illegal.

Weaver’s Democratic rival Lisa Ellis has opposed education savings accounts backed by the Palmetto Institute, saying that teachers should be able to teach “without fear of politically motivated punishment or censorship”. He also founded Aid for Aid, a teacher organization that has opposed policies promoted by Republican-led legislature and government Henry McMaster.

Weaver, for his part, has said that the state should “empower teachers and parents to speak out against any political teaching in South Carolina schools, while teaching a complete and accurate history.” She has also been a strong fundraiser, having raised over $550,000 in total during this election cycle.

Arizona

sIncumbent Kathy Hoffman, a Democratic critic of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, will face former state attorney general and school superintendent Tom Horn in a November race that draws on conservative state politicians as well as rhetoric. DeSantis and Youngkin.

Horn fueled his previous efforts to ban local Mexican-American study programs – later deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge. – as a pillar of his campaign. Ducey and the state’s GOP-controlled legislature have created a host of A universal school voucher program of education laws during the pandemic, and a ban on sport participation and gender-affirming surgical procedures for LGBTQ youth, despite protests by Hoffman.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association support gender-affirming care for adolescents. But medical experts said gender-affirming care for children rarely, if ever, includes surgery. Instead, doctors are more likely to recommend counseling, social transitions, and hormone replacement therapy.

Hoffman, who has support for the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood, is attempting to preserve Democrats’ hold on the Office of Education with a message that focuses on academics and away from the cultural battle to appeal to independent voters. — who made up nearly one-third of Arizona voters last year — and were willing to cross liberal Republican party lines.

idaho

IDaho Democratic superintendent candidate Terry Gilbert promised that, if elected, he would advocate for a “School Children’s Right to Life” law that would allow people under 21 to attend Rob Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, as of May. Prevents buying assault weapons after a lethal attack.

Gilbert, a longtime teacher who served as president of the Idaho Education Association labor union in the late 1970s, faces a well-funded rival in a gun-friendly state with enough education.

Debbie Critchfield, a former state board of education president, is an overwhelming favorite to win this fall, as she won nearly 40 percent of the Republican vote in May’s primary election, a third challenge to Public Education Superintendent Sherry Ybara. Critchfield secured his victory with the help of a campaign battle chest that eclipsed his rivals and grossed over $300,000 at its peak.

Crichfield has pointed to concerns with Critical Race Theory, saying he is prepared for the state to pay for students’ private school tuition if this is not done at the expense of funding public education – although he has suggested other Has worked with a more liberal message than conservatives.

And after recording nearly all of his expenses during the primary, Critchfield entered August with Gilbert on even greater campaign finance grounds. According to the candidate’s latest available financial disclosures, Gilbert reported having $36,705 in cash at the end of July. Critchfield reported having $39,972 in cash on hand.

Georgia

IIncumbent state superintendent Richard Woods won a landslide victory over former office holder John Barge in the May primary election, cementing his plans to use a third consecutive term in office with a message focused on academic concerns.

Woods has also served as a close aide to Republican Governor Brian Kemp—who is locked in his own re-election campaign against former state Representative Stacey Abrams. Woods supported the governor’s efforts to ban teaching about “divisive” racial concepts, to codify a parental rights bill, and to make it easier for parents to seek to remove books from schools. The superintendent also praised Kemp’s signing of a law this year that allows students to opt out of the Covid-19 mask mandate, and has also engaged with the governor on increasing school police staff and teacher salary hike,

In November’s election, Woods will face former state representative and charter school manager-turned-education adviser Alisha Thomas Sirsi.

Blake Jones contributed to this report.

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