How political organizers channel parents’ frustrations in education

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“I hope running in Virginia really woke up a lot of people and said, OK, there’s a wave of parents,” Schillinger said.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of parents are in Facebook groups focused on keeping schools open.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 48% of parents said they should have a say in what their child’s school teaches.

Keri Rodrigues is president of the National Union of Parents, a collective of organizations working to make parents’ voices heard.

“They are absolutely right that we are angry. They are absolutely wrong about what we are really angry about,” Rodrigues said. “I would tell you that 90-95% of the parents I spoke to are deeply angry, deeply frustrated and deeply frightened that they have seen the catastrophic failure of our public education system happen in their living room, and they saw it. with their own eyes. “

Rodrigues, a longtime Democratic organizer from Massachusetts, says CRT and other politicized issues serve as a distraction from sources of more prevalent parenting concerns, such as school closures, transportation shortages, anxiety and depression , and quarantine of students due to Covid-19.
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“It’s the fact that we closed schools, that we didn’t trust public health officials and scientists who told us when to reopen them,” she said. “It’s the fact that Democrats have chosen to listen to special interest groups instead of their constituents right now … The majority of parents I’ve spoken to just aren’t willing to back down and assume that the system is going to be able to take it from here. “

Pennsylvania School Board Elections

In Pennsylvania, Schillinger tried to exploit those frustrations in this year’s election. The suburban mother, a Republican, helped lead a political action committee called “Back to School PA”. The PAC injected nearly $ 700,000 into statewide school board elections, supporting candidates who pledged to keep classrooms open. Most of the money came from a Republican venture capitalist who worked on the PAC with Schillinger.

“We have become a one-numbered PAC,” said Schillinger. “How could the private do it safely, but the public couldn’t? The only thing I could see was the difference were special interest groups, such as (teachers’) unions.

Back to School PA has supported more than 200 candidates across Pennsylvania, nearly two-thirds of Republicans, according to Schillinger. She says almost 60% of them won.

“We gave parents a voice to run and try to win,” she said, adding that they had heard the concerns of thousands of parents across the state.

Kerry Corrigan is one of those frustrated parents. She says she is about to remove her sons from their public school in suburban Philadelphia.

“If he closes again, that will be the last straw,” Corrigan said.

She is opposed to school masks and mandatory vaccines, but says her top priority is keeping classrooms open.

“I’m frustrated because I feel like the kids are still trying to catch up last year,” she said.

The most of The money from Back to School PA has remained in the suburbs of Pennsylvania, but Schillinger argues that this problem transcends community boundaries. PAC donated $ 10,000 to Black Wall, a small progressive PAC focused on empowering black and brown families in Harrisburg, PA.

“Some people have said, how can you partner with them? They support Republicans,” said Pastor Earl Harris, founder of Black Wall. “I don’t care who they support because there is an issue that cuts across all ethnic groups, all age groups, and all party lines. They are your children.”

Harris says he believes Harrisburg schools failed to provide the necessary resources for families after classes went virtual during the pandemic. Twenty-six percent of families in Harrisburg, a predominantly African-American city, lived below the poverty line before the pandemic struck.

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“Most parents can’t stay home because they don’t have jobs that allow them to stay home,” Harris said. “They don’t have the equipment. They don’t have the high-speed internet capability. (They have) food insecurities. All of these factors were important in keeping schools open and safe.”

Bethe Suarez, a former homeless mother of six in Harrisburg, says she supported e-learning for the safety of her children, but soon ran into problems getting them online and getting the help they wanted. needed.

Now one of his daughters, who has a learning disability, cannot attend class. And her other daughter doesn’t feel challenged, so Suarez transferred her from public school to an online program.

“I felt like my voice didn’t matter,” Suarez said. “(Schools) dropped the ball, not being able to provide them with what they needed to brighten their future, to secure their future.”

Harris says that in this year’s election, Black Wall backed three Democratic school board candidates who vowed to keep schools open, and all three won. One of those candidates, backed by Suarez, was Roslyn Copeland.

“Schools are our safe zone for our children,” Copeland said of why she had rushed to keep schools open. “We had a lot of our kids who were already missing – from low test scores to attendance to the graduation rate.”

In anticipation of the mid-term

It is not clear what role education will play in next year’s midterm elections in a state like Pennsylvania. An Axios poll shows three-quarters of American parents believe local schools have done a fairly or very good job balancing health and safety with other priorities.
In the Virginia election, just under a quarter of voters called education the biggest issue, behind just the economy, according to the CNN exit poll.

The recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found voters are divided over which party they trust to run education and schools, with 44% saying Democrats and 41% Republicans.

Organizers from Virginia to Pennsylvania and beyond are already investing money to energize frustrated families, trying to fit this common concern into an electoral scheme.

“It’s a human problem,” Harris said of frustrations with schools, adding that it was not just a concern in suburban communities. “The biggest frustration is being invisible.”


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