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Conservative candidates won a bunch of closely watched school board elections in Texas on Saturday.
One of the higher-profile losses was suffered by Jim Rice, a member of the Fort Bend Independent School District (ISD) since 2010. He is also the immediate past president of the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) where he has served on the board since 2012. TASB is a state affiliate of the National School Boards Association (NSBA)—the same group that crafted the infamous letter to the Biden administration that accused parents who showed up to school board meetings of domestic terrorism. At least 22 states have severed ties with the NSBA, but not Texas yet.
Rice was beaten by Rick Garcia, a small-business owner who was a seventh-grade Texas history teacher in the district. Garcia will be joined on the board by David Hamilton, who ran for an open seat. Both winners were backed by the Republican Party. Fort Bend ISD serves around 80,000 students with more than 10,000 staff, just southwest of Houston.
There are 1,204 public school districts in Texas, with about 5.4 million students and 424,699 instructional staff—the most school districts and staff in the nation and second only to California in student enrollment. The May 7 election covered at least 47 major school districts with a combined enrollment of 1.4 million students (about 26 percent of Texas public school students), plus hundreds of other smaller districts in rural Texas.
“This past Saturday, there were a number of outstanding victories for parents across Texas. This election was a referendum on the radical policies and indoctrination that have taken place in classrooms across the state. Parents are taking back control and getting schools back to basics,” said Christopher Zook, Jr., who runs FFOT (Freedom Foundation of Texas) PAC. The PAC focuses on electing freedom-minded candidates to school boards of all sizes across Texas.
More Wins for the Right
In Tarrant County, school board candidates backed by three conservative PACs were doing very well, with one group spending $500,000 to support candidates in four school districts in Fort Worth suburbs. With campaigns focused on critical race theory and pornographic books in libraries, 10 of 11 conservative candidates in the four districts won election, with the eleventh making the runoff scheduled for June 18. Only two of the 11 were incumbents.
In Hays County, a suburb of Austin that tipped to Joe Biden in 2020, two conservatives, Olivia Barnard and Tricia Quintero, won election to the Dripping Springs ISD, ousting a liberal incumbent and winning an open seat. Quintero said, “This election cycle, conservative school board candidates swept into office statewide, proving that voters want parental rights and family values defended. The results leave no doubt that Texans do not want CRT in the classroom, cannot afford soaring tax bills, and will not stand for the politicization of the classroom.” She added, “It’s time for us, as a state, to move toward a better, brighter future.”
The election results caught the attention of Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who tweeted: “Conservatives won school board elections across Texas. Parents are more involved and active in school elections and school policies than ever before. No one cares more about children than their parents. The power of parents will continue to expand in Texas.”
Campaigning for reelection, Abbott called for a “Parents Bill of Rights” in January along with expanding families’ access to course material, preventing the collection of personal information unless required, and cracking down on educators who provide minors with access to explicit material. These issues largely powered Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s upset victory last November.
Abbott will face former Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke in November. O’Rourke lost a close election to Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and subsequently performed poorly in the Democratic presidential nomination contest in 2020. At a recent campaign stop, O’Rourke called for more spending on education, including $8,000 a year more for teachers. He also called for canceling the state’s STAAR standardized tests.
O’Rourke’s allies in the teachers’ unions more bluntly criticized Abbott. Andrea Chevalier, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators—effectively, a teachers union—said that Abbott’s remarks pit “educators against parents and creating this narrative that’s really harmful for public schools (making) it seem that parents need to take these bold actions.”
This heightened effort by conservatives and concerned parents will have to be sustained for future success. As a right-to-work state with no collective bargaining for government employees, Texas technically doesn’t have teachers’ unions. But many teachers have a fear of being sued for classroom actions and the teachers’ associations offer legal protection against that for some $500 a year in fees—a portion of which goes into politics.
Further, national unions will have a significant interest in beating back a conservative surge in the second-most-populous state. School boards serve as important benches to develop talent for higher political office—one that’s been largely unpopulated by conservatives in recent decades.
“These election results were not happenstance,” Zook said. “They were the culmination of years of sunlight that has been shone on the radical ideologies being taught in classrooms across Texas. Parents spoke up with one loud voice and said they do not want radical indoctrination in our schools.”
Chuck DeVore is vice president of national initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a former California legislator, special assistant for foreign affairs in the Reagan-era Pentagon, and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army (retired) Reserve. He’s the author of two books, “The Texas Model: Prosperity in the Lone Star State and Lessons for America,” and “China Attacks,” a novel.