Not long ago, school board elections were low-key races, required by state law to be nonpartisan. Candidates were retired school personnel, parents or others recruited to run because they were actively involved in local schools or the community.

Today, candidates may still be all that but, in a number of districts, candidates also are endorsed by a national political party and benefit from funding or in-kind support from national and state Political Action Committees.

Identifying as Republican or Democrat may be helpful for candidates in the 665,000-student Los Angeles school district but in Kansas fewer than 10 districts have more than 10,000 students and one-third of the state’s students attend a district of fewer than 500 students. In most districts candidates are personally known in their communities, not simply by their political affiliation.

Yet, not only are the national parties in some counties endorsing candidates, when there is more than one board position open, “block” voting, a strategy to convince voters to choose all candidates of one party, is the goal.

In these districts elections are no longer about individuals and issues are no longer about school finance, overall planning and student achievement. Now issues involve COVID vaccinations, mask wearing and teaching history using Critical Race Theory — national wedge issues that divide the major parties along ideological lines.

For example, last week, Republican U. S. Representative Ron Estes appeared in Andover to encourage votes for Republican backed candidates.

The national 1776 PAC which opposes teaching CRT has publicly endorsed 13 candidates in Kansas, most of them running in the Kansas City suburbs. Active state level PACs include Bluestem Kansas, United Teachers of Wichita and Kansans for Life, which has endorsed 40 school board candidates across the state.

When people vote based on social media and political mailers, they often don’t dive into the issues. The Kansas State Department of Education has repeatedly announced that CRT is not part of the state standards. It’s illegal to treat people differently because of their race, so the concepts of equity, respect for diversity and inclusion are taught according to state and federal law.

If a school receives accusations about CRT or how social studies/history is being taught, the school board has power at the local level to examine the concern and involve teachers, parents and the community in resolving the issue.

National party endorsements, PAC support and block voting “game” the system when they turn state-mandated nonpartisan elections into partisan races.

Nonpartisan school board elections encourage grassroots democracy. They keep public school decision-making local.

The influence of PACs and national parties can tilt the playing field by emphasizing stand-off issues at the expense of local needs.

Kansas stands to receive about $1 billion of COVID relief for public education.

We can study the candidates individually and vote for those who will work together to address teacher shortages and COVID related learning loss. Board members who will make our school buildings safe and secure and provide each student with learning technology and internet connection.

Or — we can vote based on over-simplified, hot-button disputes and continue fighting about CRT, vaccines and masks.

Gaming the system always has been part of American politics.

This gaming isn’t illegal, but it does make it difficult to teach our students to play by the rules.

Sharon Hartin Iorio is Dean Emerita at the Wichita State University College of Education.

(6) comments

Comment deleted.
Gary Lukert

Just checking: Black People WERE THE SLAVES? RIGHT? Couldn't quit their jobs. Were severely Beaten...when they "displeased" their OWNERS. Would you like to be BEATEN "by your employer?" Children were sold, with NO recourse. Christopher Columbus was a "Slave Trader." Killed/Oversaw the wiping out of over 200,000 people in Haiti...who were NOT WHITE! Blacks were prohibited from getting jobs, moving to a neighborhood they wanted to move in. Churches bombed! But, I guess for WHITES,this just wasn't "critical.?"

CSD

The opinion Dean Iorio expresses here is disingenuous to the point of being disturbing.

The 1776 Project states on its homepage "We are a political action committee dedicated to electing school board members nationwide who want to reform our public education system by promoting patriotism and pride in American history. We are committed to abolishing critical race theory and ‘The 1619 Project’ from the public school curriculum." And whether one agrees with that or not, this seems to me to be a more honest and forthright statement than Dean Iorio's submission.

This is the second opinion piece the Dean has published in the Gazette on this subject and she once again focuses on CRT while failing to even mention the 1619 Project, which was written by academics whose scholarship is demonstrably informed by CRT. She reiterates that "The Kansas State Department of Education has repeatedly announced that CRT is not part of the state standards," but similarly fails to note that the 1619 Project has been reduced to a K-12 curriculum by the Pulitzer Center that, as of July 2020, was reported as being taught in more than 4,500 schools nationwide.

According to the Washington Post, "Historians have faulted the 1619 Project for misrepresenting the causes of the American Revolution, distorting the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, discounting the contributions of White (sic) allies in the struggle for racial justice, and dismissing American aspirations of freedom and equality as hypocrisy. Historian Sean Wilentz has termed the project 'cynical,' while scholar Allen C. Guelzo has argued that 'the 1619 Project is not history; it is conspiracy theory.' Even historians sympathetic to the project have called out its factual errors and inaccuracies."

Jake Silverstein of The New York Times states the 1619 Project "requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black (sic) Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country." But given America's rich demographic diversity, it's understandable that many would question the wisdom and propriety of utilizing a K-12 curriculum that promotes placing the contributions of any one demographic group of Americans "at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country."

The 1619 Project curriculum is being promoted to educators across the country, yet the Dean considers the 1776 Project's efforts to inform the voting public of school board members' support or opposition to its inclusion to be "gaming the system."

I think James Madison had it right: "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Justice81

Well, in 1619, Africans were first brought to America to Be Slaves! And, forced to the work of LAZY WHITE PEOPLE! All Slave Owners Were LAZY!

Smkiefer

I think I'd rather vote for like minded people than have the AG sick the FBI on me for bringing my concerns to the school board!

Aim_High

You voted for who you were told to vote for, sheep.

Justice81

That is a total lie. The AG will NOT SICK the FBI on you for Bringing Your concerns to the School Boards. ALL that Republicans do is LIE!

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