Parents Helped Fuel Republican Wins on Tuesday

Over the past year and a half, school boards have witnessed an unprecedented level of parent frustration. Tuesday’s elections suggest that energy is now being translated to the ballot box.

Education played a key role in the defeat of Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe in Virginia. Republican Glenn Youngkin made education a centerpiece of his campaign in the final days, vowing to ban Critical Race Theory (CRT), open 20 new charter schools, and put a police officer at every campus. A Washington Post poll showed a 9-point increase in Virginia voters citing education as their top issue between September and October. 

Prolonged school closures and concerns over CRT galvanized many conservatives and suburban parents against McAuliffe. Political observers have pointed to McAuliffe’s statement that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” as a seminal moment. Not only did Democrats lose the governorship in Virginia, they also lost the House of Delegates.

In New Jersey, the Democratic governor managed to hold onto his seat, but the race ended up being much closer than anticipated. There too, education issues were central. Republican Jack Ciattarelli hammered CRT along with mask and vaccine mandates. While the majority of parents favor mask-wearing and well-rounded discourse on race, those who oppose coronavirus mandates and race discussions remain energized.

National Parents Union President Keri Rodrigues, a Democrat, believes the impact of school closures was far more significant than race or masking, however.

“Folks like me have been saying for the past 18 months, you are underestimating the level of anxiety, fear and frankly, the erosion of the relationship that schools have come to rely on when it comes to parents and families right now," she told NPR

Schools may have reopened, but there is still a sense that Democrats have allowed children to take a back seat to special interests.

“What I see Democrats do is completely outsource any thinking around education to the teachers unions. And that's not what this moment calls for,” she said.

Virginia's gubernatorial election is largely seen as a bellwether for the 2022 midterms. Tuesday's results offer a warning for Democrats nationwide.