Moms for Liberty, a “parental rights” group that has attempted to take over school boards in several states, wants to expand that effort across the country and into other educational posts in 2024 and beyond. The effort is preparing a clash with teachers’ unions and others on the left, who see the group as a toxic presence in public schools.
The group’s co-founder, Tiffany Justice, said during her annual summit over the weekend in Philadelphia that Moms for Liberty will use its political action committee to participate in school board elections nationwide next year. It will also “begin with support at the state board level and elected superintendents.”
Her comments confirm that Moms for Liberty, which spent its first two years fueling school board meetings with aggressive complaints about teaching about systemic racism and gender identity in the classroom, is developing a broader strategy to overhaul education infrastructure across the country.
As the group has garnered widespread conservative support and fundraising, its focus on education ensures that school board elections will remain among next year’s most contentious political struggles, even as voters turn their attention to the 2024 presidential election.
Moms for Liberty began in 2021 with three Florida moms upset by COVID-19 restrictions, but has quickly become a national player in Republican politics. His support of school choice and the “fundamental rights of parents” to direct their children’s education has attracted allies such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leading Republican presidential candidate, and the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The group has been labeled an “extremist” organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center for alleged harassment of community members, spreading anti-LGBTQ+ misinformation and fighting to eliminate diverse and inclusive materials from lesson plans.
Justice said in an interview that she and her co-founder, Tina Descovich, are two moms who “believed in American parents to take back the public education system in America,” and that they “fully intend to take back and reform that system.”
So far, the group has had mixed success in picking their preferred candidates. In 2022, just over half of the 500 school board candidates supported statewide won. In the spring of 2023, less than a third of the nearly 30 candidates she supported in Wisconsin were elected.
Focusing on state-level candidates could give Moms for Liberty an opportunity to exert its influence on some of the positions that have more control over curriculum setting, said Jon Valant, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied education policy.
A close partnership with conservative training organization The Leadership Institute and additional money from a growing donor base could also help Moms for Liberty field more eligible candidates and help them win in 2024.
Monty Floyd, vice chairman of the Moms for Liberty group in Hernando County, Fla., knows what it’s like to have the group’s support in a political campaign. He ran for school board in 2022 and received the group’s support as well as $250 from their Florida-based PAC.
Floyd lost that race but plans to compete again in 2026, he told the Associated Press at the summit. He looks forward to seeing the group’s political clout grow and said the Moms for Liberty national network is a “great resource” to a candidate even more than money.
“The wealth of knowledge they have, the network of support and just plain advocacy tips that we are learning from the speakers today,” he said. “You have good advice to give. That way you learn a lot about what you can improve in your news.”
However, Moms for Liberty may face obstacles as its growing national presence has sparked a backlash from activists who oppose it, Valant said.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said she believes groups like Moms for Liberty have created “more action and more energy” in teachers’ unions.
“We have 41 new units this year that we organized as AFT. We’ve never had that before,” she said. She said the union will “do what we have to do” in the election to show the contrast between its supported candidates and the Moms for Liberty candidates.
Beyond the unions, Moms for Liberty is likely to face opposition from grassroots groups and voters who “just don’t agree with their vision of what public education should be like,” Valant said.
Martha Cooney, a Pennsylvania educator who was among about 100 protesters who danced and held signs in front of the summit on Saturday afternoon, agreed. She said while Moms for Liberty tries to gain more political power, she and others would continue to stand in his way.
“They’re a very small minority trying to pretend they represent the whole nation, and they don’t,” Cooney said.
Moms for Liberty didn’t answer questions about which races it would focus on in 2024, and also clarified that there would be no support in general elections or the presidential election.
But even though the group says it won’t be in the White House race, Republican candidates have sought to leverage Moms for Liberty’s influence and broad network of more than 120,000 members in 45 states to bolster their voting bloc to court and help their primary campaigns.
Five GOP candidates delivered speeches during the Philadelphia convention that ended Sunday. They included DeSantis and former President Donald Trump. The rivals tried to outflank each other with claims that “awake ideology” had overtaken education and that pronouns and “critical race theory” needed to be banned from classrooms.
“I think mothers are the most important political force for this 2024 cycle,” DeSantis said in his address to attendees Friday.
Other Republican presidential candidates who appeared at the summit included former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who brought his wife and two children to the stage on Saturday . He vowed to prioritize parental rights and if elected, shut down the US Department of Education.
“Membership of this organization is just the small tip of the iceberg of a broader movement for parents and children in our country,” Ramaswamy told reporters at the summit. “And how important is that? You’d better believe it’s damn important.”
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