• Conservative, education-focused candidates saw mixed success, failing to flip school boards in many battleground states.
  • Voters in states such as Colorado and Wisconsin approved Democrat-sponsored ballot measures to increase investments in public schools.
  • Governors in both parties who championed school choice were reelected.

In this year’s midterms, the GOP in part banked on the idea that voters – in particular, parents – were fed up with the educational status quo. That these voters wanted more of a say over their kids’ learning, and less emphasis on lessons about racism and gender identity. Conservatives waving the banner of parents’ rights ran for hundreds of school board seats as well as state-level positions, from superintendent to governor.

These candidates secured victories in a few key races, but in many battleground states they lost more often than they won. And while education issues may have waned in importance for voters in the months leading up to the election, where they did influence ballot decisions it was often in Democrats’ favor. 

“Republicans’ extreme position on education hurt them,” said Jennifer Berkshire, an author and podcaster who writes about and studies education politics. “There’s a mismatch between what these (right-wing) candidates are selling and what voters are signaling they care about.”

The GOP tightened its grip on education:Parents’ rights activists say Democrats are to blame

School board elections: ‘A mixed bag’

Ballotpedia has been tracking the results of school board races involving fights over culture war issues such as critical race theory, a graduate-level framework examining how systemic racism continues to permeate society, and COVID-related policies. The organization is still going through the results of so-called conflict school board races, and as of Thursday had analyzed roughly 70% – 1,263 – of the 1,800 conflict seats up for election. 

Among those 1,263 seats, the victors are fairly evenly split between those who expressed support for inclusive curricula, diversity policies or COVID mandates (32%) and those who expressed opposition (31%). Another 36% of the victors in those 1,263 seats couldn’t be categorized.

“It really does feel like a mixed bag,” Ballotpedia’s Doug Kronaizl said. One reason so many of the candidates are now hard to categorize, he said, is because many campaigns began to distance themselves from the critical race theory rhetoric and similar messaging that were popular in 2021. “Candidates are out there choosing to hedge their language,” he said.