Today’s political debate over the fundamental value of public education is unlike anything our country has ever known. Across party lines, schools and school boards have become front-page political news. The culture wars have seeped into American classrooms. There is no doubt that the politics imposed in our public education system will be front and center this election year.
Earlier this month, Murmuration conducted a national survey to gauge voters’ stance on critical education-related issues ahead of the 2022 cycle. Results from the Murmuration Politics of Education Benchmark poll paint a very different political picture than to which we are accustomed. For starters, a majority of the 1,075 respondents, 52%, agree that K-12 education is very important – a promising sign considering how paltry turnout has been in school board elections. . That number jumps to 63% who think K-12 education is very important to making their communities and the country stronger in the future.
With so many voters considering education a priority issue, the real question is: what will drive their opinions and their votes? The Benchmark poll shows that only 7% of registered voters rate the US education system as excellent. Three times as many, 22%, consider it mediocre. And two-thirds believe more needs to be done as a nation to ensure that every child in America has the opportunity to receive a high-quality public education, regardless of skin color or zip code.
What drives these views is a better understanding of the current state of education, the result of first-hand experience over the past few years. During the pandemic, when schools were closed and students were forced to learn remotely, parents were able, for perhaps the first time, to get a good look at what was (or wasn’t) happening. not) in their children’s classrooms. Now they are asking questions about how to ensure their children succeed and how to advance equity and learning for all students.
One thing is clear: voters want change. Fifty-three percent overall, and 55% of those with school-aged children, think now is a good time to work on big ideas and changes to improve education, compared to 38% who think that “return to normal” should be the goal. This support for implementing innovation now spans gender, generation, race and ethnicity. While a larger percentage of Democrats are likely to see the urgency of change, the majority of Republican and independent voters in the survey do as well.
More striking are the differences in the sentiments of older and younger voters when it comes to the challenges of fixing the nation’s education system. There is a consistent generational gap between the two major parties: while older voters seem more sensitive to culture war arguments, those under 40 believe that together the nation can do what is needed, including adopting ideas commonly associated with the other side of the aisle – to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality public education.
For example, young Democrats support the idea of school choice, and young Republicans are more likely than their baby boomer counterparts to support unions.
And while collective attention is typically focused on the top of the poll, education champions and policy strategists need to pay attention to the bottom runs. Given historically low turnout rates in school board elections, narrowly targeted interest groups can influence outcomes by persuading and getting only a small percentage of voters to vote. That’s why it’s critical that champions of public education engage with school boards and other relevant races now, and invest in deep, long-term community organizing and advocacy work. short and long term advocacy needed to support the future. dynamic over time.
Death threats against school board members, book bans and similar extremist tactics threaten to further undermine people’s faith in public education – and the nation’s ability to put children first and bring necessary and positive changes to education. If people who choose to pursue narrow interests take control of school boards, the impact will be catastrophic for the nation, and for black and Latino families in particular, undermining not only the progress of education, but also democracy. , economy and national security of the country.
The 2022 election cycle has already begun and education will be a factor voters will consider at the ballot box as they exercise their right to vote and determine the nation’s path forward. As education advocates, we cannot let culture wars and partisan politics distract from efforts to address issues of equity, quality, and access that have existed for decades. The nation must align with common values and invest in the K-12 education system. The future of America and its children depends on it.
Emma Bloomberg is Founder and CEO of Murmuration, an organization that advises and supports community organizations across the country in their efforts to plan and execute successful, data-driven community organizing, advocacy and election campaigns. More info on www.murmuration.org.