Since Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin’s decisive win in Virginia, education has been deemed the top issue that propelled him to victory. Specifically, the infiltration of “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) into some classrooms nationwide. Parents in Virginia revolted and ultimately awarded Youngkin the governorship, and he became the first Republican to win the office since 2009. What we saw in that race is a valuable lesson for all of us here at home, one that goes beyond politics and CRT: parents are taking a stand and making their voices heard in their children’s education.
I’ve long believed that school board is perhaps the most important local office one can hold. Before coming to Congress, I served for four years on the Butler Area School District’s Board of Directors. Education is the foundation of a prosperous society, and our children are our most valuable asset. I went into those meetings ready to make a difference in our children’s lives. Once on the board, however, I saw what was not happening in our meetings: real debate over curriculum and what our children were learning.
Fast forward about 25 years. Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents and guardians have spent much of the last 20 months watching their child’s classroom enter their home. They debated some very important topics not just with their local school board members, but also amongst themselves. What are our children actually learning in school? Should they really be learning a particular subject matter? Why is the lesson being taught that way?
If you were among the moms and dads, caregivers, and loved ones asking those questions, I stand with you. Those questions are justified. We all deserve to have a greater voice in our children’s education and answers to what’s happening within our public education system.
Although CRT isn’t prominent in schools within our 16th Congressional District, the debate over the controversial teaching practice has served as a springboard for another important discussion: what is best for our kids? That discussion is good and necessary.
For our children, school board meetings should carry more weight than just gaveling in, signing a few contracts, and gaveling out. I encourage board members throughout our Congressional district to consider new, innovative ways of helping our young people learn. Our children cannot make these adult decisions themselves. They need us to lead, and for their parents to have a seat at the table.
I also encourage our parents to have constructive and civil conversations with your local board members about what you think is best for your child’s public education. After all, you as the taxpayer are ultimately footing the bill for your child’s public education. That’s what makes this discussion especially important. Some school districts in the region have annual budgets worth hundreds of millions of dollars. That can add up to $1 billion over just a few years.
Paying taxes for schools is an investment in our future. That said, there are two questions I would ask taxpayers and parents in the area to consider: Do you feel like you and your students are getting the best return on your investment? If not, what can be done to change that?
Asking those questions does not mean I, or others, believe there is trouble behind closed doors. Our teachers and staff work incredibly hard to educate our children. They deserve our utmost support. What we saw in Virginia is also what many people in our area are asking for: increased transparency and a chance to participate in the conversation. Simply put: our parents deserve — and have earned — a greater voice in their child’s education.
What I have learned over time is that someone usually runs for school board after something upset them. Perhaps it was a tax increase or something personal like their child’s coach or a bus route. But I would argue that our children’s education should always be a personal issue. Now more than ever, we need public participation in our local school boards and government. We can’t be casual about our future. Academic success is comprised of students who want to learn, teachers who want to educate them, and parents who support both.
If you have the capacity to do so, then please: strongly consider running for your local school board. There are 500 school districts in Pennsylvania and more than 40 school districts in our Congressional district. More than any other office nowadays, these seats hold the keys to a future where the honest pursuit of knowledge is cherished; where no child’s worth is ever determined by group identity; where each American is empowered to shape his and her own individual destiny; where each child, and all of us, can work toward a better American future.
Republican Rep. Mike Kelly represents Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District and is a former member of the Butler Area School Board.