Making education domestic again.
Defund the Education “Deep State”
Associations of school boards are the latest example of administrative power gone mad.
Until quite recently, American parents thought of public schools as democratically accountable local institutions. But the pandemic revealed how much of K-12 education is controlled by teachers’ unions, unelected bureaucrats, and non-governmental organizations. This reality, considered alongside the apparent collusion between the Biden White House and the National School Boards Association to create a pretext for a federal law enforcement intervention to chill parental opposition to critical race theory (CRT), will raise the specter in many parents’ minds of a public education “deep state.”
The NSBA’s recent letter to President Biden alleged, without evidence, a rise in threats and violence, and asked the administration to “examine appropriate enforceable actions,” under “the PATRIOT Act for domestic terrorism.” Fewer than half of state school board associations expressed objections before the NSBA apologized under harsh public pressure, saying there was “no justification” for its language.
For its part, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees has promised to cooperate with the FBI and advised its members to apprise them of “of any issues you have had during your Committee meetings on topics such as mask mandates, issues with equity education, rights for LGBTQ, and BIOPC [sic] students.”
But this public commitment to narc on parents who oppose or question school policies may not even be the most flagrant anti-democratic posture taken by a state school board association. That award goes to the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA), which—after being challenged on its woke agenda—insisted that it owns publicly adopted school district policy.
Some Arizona school board members took exception when the ASBA recently held an “Equity Event” featuring a speaker who declared that “achievement is arbitrary” and insisted that “our presidents, Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson were rapist, racist men.” A school board member from the Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC) school district asked ASBA’s Associate Executive Director Tracey Benson: “When was the last anti-CRT conference you had? I’ll answer for you, you’ve never had one.” Benson replied, “That’s correct, sir, because education equity is one of our priorities.”
Tired of paying dues to an organization dedicated to pushing a hard-left ideological agenda into public education, the West-MEC school board met to consider disaffiliating from the ASBA. But, as detailed in a newly released Goldwater Institute report, ASBA told the school board that the cost of disaffiliating would be far higher than they could have imagined, because the ASBA insisted that it legally owns the district’s governance framework, and possesses the copyright to its charter, policies, and other material.
Moreover, if the local school board indeed withdraws from the state organization, its contract with the ASBA suggests that it would have to make new policies from scratch, without relying upon ASBA-designed language: “The Member District agrees not to modify, adapt, translate, decompile, disassemble, or create derivative works based on the policy services policy manuals and digital files.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has already held that state code can’t be copyrighted; it will be left up to the courts to decide whether school district policies can be considered proprietary to a state association of local elected bodies.
But the bigger issue is fundamentally political. Should parents and citizens control their schools through democratically elected representatives? Or should public education be the fiefdom of unelected bureaucrats and labor officials representing a K through 12 deep state? Decades of apathy on the part of parents have enabled the creation and entrenchment of the latter. It is up to state legislators, parents, and citizens to restore a more democratic system of public education.
For starters, state legislators should prohibit the distribution of taxpayer money from their state school board associations to the National School Boards Association. The NSBA’s profoundly anti-democratic effort to equate parental opposition to critical race theory with “domestic terrorism” disqualifies it from any entitlement to taxpayer money.
Meanwhile, state school board associations that see their role as providing support services to locally elected leaders should band together to form a new interstate association, an American School Boards Association.
State school board associations that don’t, and which instead believe they have the right to exercise woke rule by proxy, deserve no public subsidy. The Arizona School Boards Association’s revenue model exists solely at the sufferance of the state legislature. The ASBA’s claim to “own” school district policies should bar it from receiving taxpayer dollars.
New and competing school board associations can and should be built. We’re starting to see this happen: Earlier this month, former school board members launched the Arizona Coalition of School Board Members, which is explicitly committed to the protection of parents’ rights.
Such efforts should be applauded, amplified, and emulated. The raft of state legislation popularly labeled “Critical Race Theory Bans” this year was a start, but such laws must be the beginning—not the end—of a campaign to restore the integrity of public education. Proposals for academic transparency, on-cycle school board elections, and universal school choice are all steps in the right direction. For every education policy issue or proposal, state leaders—constitutionally charged with public education —should ask themselves if the idea empowers parents, or further entrenches the power of special interests dedicated to imposing a pernicious ideology on schoolchildren.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.