Florida Democrat launches group to fight conservative takeover of school boards

Politico | By Andrew Atterbury | May 16,

The launch pits the group directly against a well-oiled political machine that has helped dozens of conservative candidates win school board races across the country.

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — A Florida Democrat who unseated a Moms for Liberty co-founder in a contentious school board race is now leading an organization aiming to combat the influence conservatives have wielded on local education policies.

The PAC, “Educated. We Stand,” is set to launch Thursday with the goal of “protecting, recruiting and electing” school board members that will help “limit the influence of far-right extremists” across the country. Plans for the organization were shared first with POLITICO.

The launch pits the group directly against a well-oiled political machine that has helped dozens of conservative candidates win school board races across the country since 2022, backed by organizations like Moms for Liberty and state leaders such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Conservatives have been widely successful in altering the education landscape in places like Florida, where state and local leaders have introduced policies on scores of culture war issues. Although there has been a backlash from some liberals to organizations like Moms for Liberty — and some conservative candidates have lost contested elections — there has not been a cohesive national response.

Florida, as an example, recently passed laws and rules restricting the use of pronouns in schools that don’t align with sex at assigned birth, and previously limited how lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity can be taught. At the local level, Florida school boards have voted down LGBTQ+ Month proclamations and are fighting federal Title IX changes tied to protecting transgender students.

The moves, according to Republican leaders, are meant to protect the rights of parents to teach their children about significant issues while also shielding them from ideas that some families may find controversial.

The new PAC led by Jenkins is “solely dedicated to blunting the progress of far-right school takeovers” by countering conservative efforts to restrict books for students, change curricula and “limit the autonomy of educators,” according to its website.

As such, “Educated. We Stand” is aiming to raise cash and build up campaigns nationwide backing school leaders who “support factual broad-based public education — and defeat those who do not.”

Jenkins has been seen as a rising figure among some Democrats since defeating Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich in a 2020 school board race in GOP-leaning Brevard County. With her school board term expiring this year, Jenkins was floated at one point as a possible Democratic candidate for Senate. She has openly feuded with state Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican who clashed with Jenkins over issues such as her support of masks in schools during the pandemic.

“Every child deserves a safe space to learn, explore, and grow without the threat of political agendas clouding their education,” Jenkins said. “And no school board member should ever be targeted or threatened for standing up for basic truths and rights; not by their governor, not by right-wing politicians, not by anyone.”

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