Oct 27, 2023 - Election

Colorado school board races charged by political currents

Illustration of woman in a suit wearing a pin with an apple on it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Hyper-polarized politics are dominating once low-key school board races in Colorado this year as partisans look to control what happens in the classroom.

Why it matters: The infusion of hot-button social issues is making school board contests the new frontier for the nation's culture war and the results may reshape how school districts across the state are governed.

State of play: Once nonpartisan and focused on budgets and test scores, school board candidates are making racism, gender and religion the main talking points ahead of November's election, Colorado Public Radio reports.

  • The dynamic is playing out in Cherry Creek, Adams 12, Brighton 27J, Greeley-Evans 6 and other districts where conservative candidates are pushing for more parent control in teaching, curriculums "according to biblical values," book bans and minimizing support for transgender students.

What they're saying: "People with very strong ideological and partisan attachments are finding the school board meeting space and the school board election space as a place to mobilize," Jonathan Collins, assistant professor of political science, public policy and education at Brown University, told The Colorado Sun.

Context: Two years ago, a similar pattern emerged in response to pandemic remote learning and mask policies, as angry parents bombarded school board meetings and then fueled a conservative overhaul of boards in Douglas County, Woodland Park and others across the state.

The intrigue: The conservative candidates are backed by national organizations with big money that oppose teacher unions and equity efforts.

  • The through-line in Colorado's movement is the Freedom Foundation, CPR writes. Its attorney Brad Miller recently spoke at an event in which he said the state was ripe for a conservative takeover because of the power the board holds and the lack of oversight in communities.

The other side: Awoken by the 2021 election results, and the renewed effort by conservatives this year, opposition groups of parents are forming to fight back. The Colorado Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, and the Democratic Party are joining the effort to pay for TV ads and canvassing.

  • Rob Rogers, a parent trying to thwart a conservative push in the Academy 20 District in Colorado Springs told CPR it's exhausting. "It is consistently resisting and not taking your foot off the gas because they're not taking their foot off the gas," he said.
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