Conservative PACs inject millions into local school races

Democrats have countered with their own campaigns portraying Republicans as extremists who want to ban books and rewrite history.

As Republicans and Democrats fight for control of Congress this fall, a growing number of conservative political action groups are targeting their efforts closer to home: at local school boards.

Their aim is to gain control of more school systems and push back against what they see as a liberal tide in public education classrooms, libraries, sports fields, even building plans.

Once seen as sleepy affairs with little interest outside their communities, school board elections started to heat up last year as parents aired frustrations with pandemic policies. As those issues fade, right-leaning groups are spending millions on candidates who promise to scale back teachings on race and sexuality, remove offending books from libraries and nix plans for gender-neutral bathrooms or transgender-inclusive sports teams.

Democrats have countered with their own campaigns portraying Republicans as extremists who want to ban books and rewrite history.

At the center of the conservative effort is the 1776 Project PAC, which formed last year to push back against the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which provides free lesson plans that center U.S. history around slavery and its lasting impacts. Last fall and this spring, the 1776 group succeeded in elevating conservative majorities to office in dozens of school districts across the U.S., propelling candidates who have gone on to fire superintendents and enact sweeping “bills of rights” for parents.

In the wake of recent victories in Texas and Pennsylvania — and having spent $2 million between April 2021 and this August, according to campaign finance filings — the group is campaigning for dozens of candidates this fall. It’s supporting candidates in Maryland’s Frederick and Carroll counties, in Bentonville, Arkansas, and 20 candidates across southern Michigan.

Its candidates have won not only in deeply red locales but also in districts near liberal strongholds, including Philadelphia and Minneapolis. And after this November, the group hopes to expand further.

“Places we’re not supposed to typically win, we’ve won in,” said Ryan Girdusky, founder of the group. “I think we can do it again.”

In Florida, recent school board races saw an influx of attention — and money — from conservative groups, including some that had never gotten involved in school races.

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