School board elections are the quintessential local elections. In most states, including Indiana, they are nonpartisan. Voters make their choices based on the pros and cons of candidates, not parties. Issues matter, but candidates with strong networks of friends and supporters are likely to do well.
That makes it hard to draw conclusions from the school board elections that took place across the state last week. But it appears that conservative culture warriors didn’t do as well as they had hoped.
In some school districts, candidates vowed to take on “critical race theory” and “wokeness” in the schools. Those folks won and now have a majority in Hamilton Southeastern, an affluent suburban district north of Indianapolis where white parents protested the hiring of the district’s first Black superintendent last year. In the New Albany-Floyd County district, two candidates backed by Liberty Defense, a PAC that supports Republicans, were among four winners.
But in Carmel and Noblesville, suburban districts that are demographically and politically similar to Hamilton Southeastern, they gained a seat but remained a minority. In Zionsville, Avon and Brownsburg, also Indy suburbs, supporters of teachers and administrators won all contested seats. Zionsville conservatives who wanted to rewrite curriculum, and one who made national news when he said “all Nazis weren’t bad,” fell short. In Northwest Allen Schools, a suburban Fort Wayne district, incumbents held off a challenge by conservatives, including one endorsed by U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind.
One disturbing result was in Lafayette, where a winning candidate said he looked forward to scouring classrooms for “gay and lesbian flags, that sort of thing.” But he’s one board member. He can make an ass of himself, but he can’t dictate policy, much less curriculum.
Indiana Republicans tried to pass state legislation early this year that would have restricted teaching about “divisive topics” like race, gender and sexuality. They failed, thanks in part to strong opposition from students, families and teachers. This fall, the issue moved to local school board elections.
Indiana, unlike most of the country, did experience a partisan red wave on Nov. 8. Republicans won every statewide race, easily. They won seven of nine congressional districts and came close to winning an eighth. They held their supermajorities in the state House and Senate. If there’s a state where anti-CRT rhetoric should have swept ideologues onto school boards, Indiana is it.
But there’s not much evidence that happened. Surveys show that most Americans, regardless of politics, have a positive view of their local public schools. Farfetched claims that schools are indoctrinating students with a “woke” agenda may play well on right-wing media, but most Hoosiers know better.