US school board elections produce successful wave of conservative gains

A liberal-leaning school board was ousted in February during a wave of school board turnover in states across the country, most notably Colorado President Donald Trump has called on conservatives to “get involved” in…

US school board elections produce successful wave of conservative gains

A liberal-leaning school board was ousted in February during a wave of school board turnover in states across the country, most notably Colorado

President Donald Trump has called on conservatives to “get involved” in local school boards and districts. In conservative districts across the US, school board candidates have used that same rallying cry to win seats and oust their liberal peers.

In Colorado, at least two conservative political newcomers successfully ran in February and May, beating out incumbents who had been elected to four-year terms. Now conservative candidates are on the offensive, recalling conservative incumbents from primary races or extending their term limits for further political campaigns.

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The effect, if any, on the curricula is unclear. Curriculum control is usually the realm of the school districts, and once in, conservatives, who lean more conservative in their policies, are usually relatively ineffective in changes.

In 2002, school district-based referendums changed rural districts in Colorado to adopt laws that require poorer districts to have more students from low-income families to comply with federal civil rights requirements and a demographic ideal of about 46% non-white students. Before that, state rules in 2001 required all school districts to have at least 40% non-white students.

Now in Marcellus, a five-person district of western Colorado near the Wyoming border, one board member in a primary earlier this year was removed along with another incumbent. According to an article published by the Colorado Springs Gazette, the pair, Emily Phelps and Kelly Christenson, did not receive sufficient responses from middle school parents for their “misinterpretation” of the budget at an unsuccessful referendum attempt in March.

Board member Ben Dumont said the board, made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, has been more divisive than before and some of the young board members had been fighting among themselves. Dumont himself intends to campaign to maintain control of the board, so he did not respond to phone calls or an email requesting comment.

In Eagle County, another Colorado county where more school board members were defeated than at any other time in recent history, the election movement is focusing on the curriculum of students in rural school districts such as Eagle Pass.

“We have a lot of rural school districts and they are not changing their culture and their ways of doing things so we are saying, ‘Hey, listen. Just because you are at the county district, that does not mean you have freedom.’” Rosemary Gault, Eagle Pass charter

Instead of focusing on curricular issues or pushback on school funding, the Eagle Pass Republicans have placed a primary emphasis on college readiness. Their charter school, Eagle Pass High School, says “college is essential” and students should work to become pre-medicine major.

“We have a lot of rural school districts and they are not changing their culture and their ways of doing things so we are saying, ‘Hey, listen. Just because you are at the county district, that does not mean you have freedom,’” Rosemary Gault, the vice-president of the Eagle Pass charter school, said.

The education advocacy group Stand for Children has previously criticized attempts to take away local control of school boards in several districts, including Colorado, but Stand has stayed mum on recent school board upsets in Eagle Pass and Marcellus. Jennifer Bartlett, Stand’s interim executive director, deferred comment to the Eagle Pass charter school.

In 2016, Donald Trump called on conservatives to “get involved” in school boards, as a way to regain power in state politics. At the time, the issue of conservative dominance in school boards had been a source of contention in some states, with Colorado suffering through several failed efforts to reject a proposed amendment on school funding and reform.

Since then, the Republican party in Colorado has been able to win seats in the state legislature. Last week, students in Colorado Springs voted for the first time in history to write a student-proposed history book, which is scheduled to be released in spring 2020. The book will feature non-fiction facts that don’t otherwise appear in textbooks.

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