Last year, we asked Skimm’rs about a number of key issues (like access to abortion and guns) ahead of the midterm elections. When it came to education, nearly all millennial women surveyed said that it's an important issue.
Turns out, Skimm’rs aren’t the only ones concerned with what’s going on in the classroom. One poll found that nearly 60% of registered voters said education is “very important to their vote.” So it’s no surprise that both Democrats and Republicans are fighting for the public's approval when it comes to education.
The state of education:
Education has consistently been a focal point for Americans. But it’s become more important than ever to voters, thanks to a slew of new state laws that restrict if (and how) race, sexual orientation, and gender identity are addressed in schools.
Take critical race theory (CRT), which is a decades-old academic concept that examines how racism is embedded in US history and its institutions. The term gained traction in 2020, when the murder of George Floyd sparked a nationwide racial reckoning — and fueled conversations at work, school, and home about race and racism. Since then, CRT has become a political buzzword used by conservative lawmakers to undermine everything from diversity training to education about racism.
But here’s the thing: There’s little to no evidence that CRT is taught in K-12 schools. And yet, 42 states have attempted to restrict the teaching of CRT, as well as other discussions on racism. And those bans have been successful in 17 states, including Idaho, Oklahoma, and Florida.
That’s not the only restriction rapidly spreading across the country. Since the start of 2022, state legislatures have introduced more than 230 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills. And at least 21 of those bills have been turned into law, according to the ACLU.
One of the most notable examples is Florida’s "Parental Rights in Education" bill (aka the "Don’t Say Gay” bill), which bans teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with students in K-3. And allows parents to sue schools if they believe someone is violating the law. (Worth noting: Since it was signed into law, more than a dozen states have proposed similar bills). Meanwhile, another increasingly common measure limits the ability of transgender youth to participate in sports. And it’s already been enacted in at least 18 states, including Texas, Alabama, and South Dakota.
And some states have combined these efforts with bans on books — which reached historic highs during the past school year. In Florida, a school district made up of 63 schools put warning labels on 115 books. Including “Beloved” by Toni Morrison and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. And in Tennessee, a school district placed a ban on the book “Maus,” which is a Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel about the Holocaust.
In response to all of this, the Department of Education has proposed amendments to Title IX to protect students and educators from “all forms of sex discrimination” and “sex-based harassment.”
TBD on if and when those get enacted. In the meantime, here's a refresher on the laws that currently protect students and teachers.
What laws protect students & teachers in public schools?
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Requires public schools to give all students with disabilities a free and appropriate public education.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): Protects the privacy of student education records.
Title IX of the Education Amendments(1972): Prohibits sex discrimination in any education program receiving federal financial assistance (think: Arcadia Unified School District, Doe v. Fulton County School District, J.L. v. Mohawk Central School District).
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): Originally enacted in 1965 to act as a civil rights law, it gave grants to low-income students and school districts, as well as state educational agencies to improve lower education. In 2002, it was replaced by the No Child Left Behind Act. And in 2015, that was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Power players: Who actually has control
Many elected positions on your ballot can directly impact your state’s education policies. Some include: your governor, state senator and representative, and superintendent of public instruction. And at the local level, your school board plays a role. (Learn more about these positions and others here.)
Races to watch
Anti-CRT and anti-LGBTQIA+ bills are sitting in state legislatures. And these key races could determine the future of some of those bills:
Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Race:
Stakes: Arizona is at a standstill on CRT in schools. Republicans in the state have tried to ban it — without success. That could change if Horne is elected.
What to know: Hoffman, who was elected in 2018, is running to keep her job. While Horne — who was superintendent from 2003 to 2011 — wants it back. Hoffman’s campaign promises include giving teachers paid parental leave and giving students “medically accurate, age appropriate info” about their health and identities. Horne plans to “restore discipline” and teach “accurate history / patriotism.”
Florida’s Gubernatorial Race:
Stakes: During his three years as governor, DeSantis has helped pass and has supported a number of bills that impact Florida’s education system – and its minority students and teachers.
What to know: In an effort to battle what he calls “indoctrination,” DeSantis has championed a variety of laws that restrict teaching about gender identity, sexual orientation, and race (see: Don’t Say Gay). And there’s no signs he plans to slow down. Meanwhile, Crist — a current democratic House member and former Republican governor — recently picked the head of the Miami teachers union as his running mate. And announced he’s leaving the House to focus on his bid for governor. He has said he wants to get politics out of schools, which Crist says is the “real” indoctrination.
South Carolina’s Superintendent of Education Race:
Stakes: A bill that would prohibit the teaching of CRT stalled in committee. But if elected, Weaver has said she’ll push to protect students from ideologies like CRT. While Ellis has promised to allow the teaching of texts that reflect diversity.
What to know: According to her campaign site, Weaver wants to empower educators to teach “complete and accurate history” and “protect children from political indoctrination in every form.” That includes “ideologies like Critical Race Theory.” While Ellis — who has been a teacher since 2001 — believes that teachers should be able to instruct “without fear of politically-motivated punishment or censorship.” And students should have access to “appropriate texts that reflect their diverse lived experiences.”
Misinformation around CRT, plus policies discriminating against LGBTQIA+ youth and educators, is already changing the way students learn at public schools across the country. And depending on what state you live in, your vote could impact how social issues are taught to future generations – including in the classrooms where your own kids might learn.
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