It looks like Tea Party activists have taken a page from other hard-right political movements and are making a push for representation on local school boards.
The timing couldn’t be worse for schools that are already starved for funds after decades of relentless spending cuts and school consolidations. For many districts, local property tax increases are the only reasonable means to plug sometimes billion dollar budget gaps.
Now those districts have to face anti-tax activists who are intent on decimating public education by once and for all turning off the funding spigot.
Tea Party groups are not simply challenging local property tax increases. They are challenging school staff they perceive as “unnecessary” and calling to question the idea that smaller class size results in a better learning environment.
So far these efforts have been met with mixed success. In places like Florida and Pennsylvania, local Tea Party groups have been successful in challenging teacher raises (at a whopping 1.5%) while in Rockford, Illinois every Tea Party endorsed school board candidate lost.
In the weeks leading up to the Rockford elections, the Tea Party media machine did an ad blitz, linking teacher pay to increases in local property taxes. The party claimed teacher pay was exorbitant, essentially parroting the talking points circulated among Republicans and their allies in the attack on public employees.
The message failed, largely because people just don’t see teachers getting rich and because many also understand that public education is a necessary investment for long term economic sustainability.
It’s too early to tell whether the Tea Party will really have much success at the school board level nationwide, but the fact that they have targeted these seats is a development any advocate of public education should be paying close attention to.
photo courtesy of stevendepolo via Flickr