Schools have become flashpoints for Republicans eyeing the White House

Schools have become flashpoints for Republicans eyeing the White House

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump Calls on parents to elect and dismiss school principals. Florida Govt. Ron DeSantis Bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade And Nikki HaleyThe former UN ambassador, who is expected to announce his White House bid next week, is among Republicans targeting critical race theory.

in The opening phase of the GOP presidential primariesThe “parental rights” movement and lessons for school children emerged as a critical flashpoint.

Ahead of what could be a Republican presidential primary, a focus on issues related to racism, sexism and education is emerging as a way for potential White House hopefuls to differentiate themselves in a crowded field, suggesting new and deeper ways for the federal government. Shape what happens in local classrooms. But the effort has drawn criticism from LGBTQ advocacy groups, teachers’ unions, some parents and student activists, and those concerned about efforts to avoid lessons about systemic racism. Democrats have cast the effort as race-baiting and inappropriately injecting politics into schools.

“What we’re seeing now, at least in this period, is a lot of focus on the so-called ‘culture war’ issue,” said Jeffrey Hennig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Nowhere is the drive more visible than in Florida, where DeSantis has aggressively pushed back against the “Week” policy.

He drew national attention last year for the so-called signing Don’t say gay bill The law excluded instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for young elementary school students, as well as material deemed not age-appropriate, which critics argued was vague and could inhibit classroom discussion. He signed the “Stop Walk” Act in 2022, a law that restricts the teaching that members of a race are inherently racist or should feel guilty for past actions by other people of the same race, among other things.

DeSantis has also increased his political influence in local school board races, endorsing candidates in swing races last year and flipping at least three boards from a liberal majority to a conservative majority.

Most recently, he Blocked the high school from teaching a new Advanced Placement course on African American Studies, a violation of a state law and historically incorrect. Outside of K-12 schools, he appointed six conservative trustees to the board of a small liberal arts college, and he announced Planning to restrict State colleges from having programs on diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory.

Critical race theory, a way to think about American history through the lens of racism, is a top goal. The theory, which DeSantis calls “harmful,” was developed by scholars in the 1970s and 1980s in response to what they saw as a lack of racial progress after the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions, which serve to maintain white supremacy in society.

As DeSantis emerges as the strongest potential challenger to Trump, the former president has laid out his own stance on the same issue and recently released a nearly 5-minute video outlining his campaign’s “plan to save American education and return power” to parents. .”

Declaring that “public schools have been taken over by radical leftist lunatics” and warning that “communists with pink hair are teaching our kids,” Trump pledged, if re-elected president, to cut federal funding for any school or program in the nation. theory, gender ideology or other inappropriate racial, sexual or political content for our children.”

Trump said he plans to create a national certification agency that would certify teachers “who embrace patriotic values, support our way of life and understand that their job is not to teach children” and set favorable standards for states and school districts that adopt reforms. . Such as allowing parents to directly elect school principals.

“If a principal isn’t doing the job, parents should have the right and the right to vote or fire them and elect someone else who will do the job right,” Trump said at a campaign appearance in South Carolina.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is considering a presidential campaign, He is using a team formed to rally conservatives Against transgender-affirmative policies in schools. The group’s plan to run ads, hold rallies and canvass the early voting state of Iowa comes as a federal appeals court considers a case over an Iowa school district’s policy to support transgender students.

In the United States, public education is administered by the states and funded primarily by state and local taxpayers. The federal government, for example, does not certify teachers or regulate how schools are staffed. And the feds also don’t regulate curriculum standards as DeSantis has advocated in Florida. But Congress or the Department of Education can tie in federal money to encourage certain educational practices.

So it’s not unknown for presidential candidates to talk about education.

George HW Bush Announced that he wanted to be known as the ‘Education President’ and launched a push for national standards and targets. his son, George W. BushHe centered his message in the 2000 campaign as part of education reform and, in his first year of administration, signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act, which sparked a national debate over the proper use of standardized testing in schools.

An outgrowth of this is the recent divisive shift of social issues to schools Govt. Glenn Youngkin’s successful bid Became the first Republican in more than a decade to win the Virginia governorship in 2021. Youngkin, himself A potential presidential candidatecampaign Parental rightsAppealed to parents frustrated by school closures during the pandemic and said he would ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

Once in office, his administration began the process of rewriting the state’s model policies for the treatment of transgender students, issuing guidelines for school divisions that would roll back some accommodations and tighten parental notification requirements.

Christine Davison, a strategist for Yonkin’s gubernatorial campaign, said Yonkin focused on education after the pandemic put pressure on parents in the classroom, leading to frustration with remote learning close to the curriculum.

“Voters want to understand what their leaders are talking about at their kitchen table,” he said. “Right now, families are sitting at their kitchen tables looking at report cards, homework assignments, frustrated with the curriculum.”

The debate over education still carries weight in last year’s midterms, giving potential Republican presidential candidates a reason to focus on the issue. Half of voters in the 2022 election say their local K-8 schools teach too much about gender identity, according to AP Votecast, a national survey of voters. Just over a quarter said schools teach too little about the subject.

4 in 10 voters said the United States teaches too little about racism, while nearly a third said schools teach too much about the topic. Roughly one-quarter of voters said each focus was “about right.”

There was broad agreement among Republicans — 8 in 10 of whom said gender identity is taught too much in schools. A small majority – 56% – said about racism.

Among Democrats, nearly two-thirds say too little is taught about racism. But there was less consensus around teaching gender identity. About 4 in 10 say too little is taught, about 2 in 10 say too much is taught, and about 4 in 10 say schools do it right.

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster and strategist who worked on President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign, said GOP messages about protecting children appear to be aimed at trying to win. Suburban womenThose who are particularly alienated from Trump and the GOP After the Supreme Court last year ended constitutional protections for abortion.

“I think it’s gaining extra strength because of its appeal or its perceived appeal to women voters,” she said.

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