November 2022

By Gabriel Sánchez Zinny

This is an English translation of an Op-Ed written for the Argentinean publication La Nacion. Read the original piece here.

The midterm elections in the United States brought many surprises. The first is that a Republican wave was expected in the House of Representatives, and perhaps in the Senate, and that did not happen. Another, which is no longer new, is the failure of pollsters, analysts, and forecasters, of any ideology, of any institution. Even more worrisome is the delay in counting the votes in a highly fragmented electoral system that is showing little execution, generating doubts, legal actions, and conspiracy theories in both parties.

But perhaps one of the most positive surprises seen in this campaign was the focus on education that many candidates have placed, both at the national and district levels. It was a topic that dominated the agenda, and attracted a lot of attention from the media, donors, and interest groups.

Why did this happen? The biggest red flag was the National Tests of Learning, which gave very poor results in math and reading, as did the results of the ACT among high school graduates, which were the lowest in three decades. This generated a deep discussion about the causes, and how Democrats and Republicans had acted. Long quarantines and the prolonged obligation to close schools, which occurred more in the states with a Democratic government, and the delay in the return to classes supported by the teachers' unions, important donors, and activists of that party.

Since Glenn Youngkin's victory as governor of Virginia, largely for having supported the role of parents in schools, movements of families have started demanding that political campaigns focus more on education, getting involved in the elections of school districts, and organizing to have a voice and influence with donations. New Political Action Committees (PACs) have sprung up focused on the education agenda, which were not frequent in previous election cycles. Groups like Red Wine and Blue, which sought to mobilize mothers from the suburbs, or the Campaign for our Shared Future, which spent more than 6 million dollars in these elections on ads on TV and radio. On the conservative side, 1776 Project PAC spent $2.8 million on candidates who pledged to fight teaching socialism in schools, or Get Kids Back to School PAC and Moms for Liberty who supported the reopening of schools and the teaching of a traditional curriculum.

And many national and state congressional and gubernatorial candidates campaigned on education issues, primarily on an agenda of freedom of choice and giving parents a greater role and rights, following the strategy in Virginia. In fact, Kevin McCarthy, who is likely to become Majority Leader if the Republicans win the House of Representatives, pushed for a “Parents Bill of Rights," a parental rights bill, which he said he would pass in the House. Democratic candidates like the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer; Josh Shapiro, from Pennsylvania, and JB Pritzker, from Illinois, have argued for the need to organize parent councils, or provide more funding options for families to choose the schools they want.

Historically, the Democratic Party was considered by voters to be more favorable to education, but that changed with the pandemic, which produced an increase in favorability towards Republicans, who were perceived as more determined to open schools and restart education more quickly.

In the United States, as in most countries, education never appears as the priorities among citizens when voting. But perhaps this is changing, and hopefully more political leaders and communicators contribute to making it so, bringing the issue to the debate, not only with the well-known diagnoses of the problems that exist, but also making clear proposals on the reforms that they would carry out to improve the situation.