School board races in our area are getting more attention, and more money

Experts say we're seeing a school board climate unlike anything we've seen in decades.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- School board seats are among the choices on many ballots across the area this Election Day, and experts say those races are unlike anything we've ever seen.

Many of those races have gone from being downplayed to being hotly debated because of issues like mask mandates and debates over Critical Race Theory.

"I don't remember a time when school board elections have dominated statewide," said Dr. Terry Madonna of Millersville University.

"I think people are being more and more careful. I know I was very careful when I voted this morning," said Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago of the Rutgers-Camden School of Public Policy.

"Some polls show that education is the most important issue," said Madonna.

Driven, in Pennsylvania, by issues like vaccines and Governor Tom Wolf's mask mandate for schools.

"That has divided Pennsylvanians by party, with Republicans far more likely to say 'uh oh, Gov. Wolf, that should be up to each school district,'" Madonna said. "On the other hand, Democrats more likely to say what the governor has ordered is proper, it's appropriate."

The debate has infused more politics, and more money, into school board races.

"There is more money being spent in some school districts. There's no doubt about it," said Madonna.

Some of it is to push perspectives related to Critical Race Theory, an issue that has moved from the classroom to the voting booth.

"Many conservative groups have framed Critical Race Theory as a toxic ideology," said Dr. Bonnilla-Santiago.

It's led to a school board climate that experts say we haven't seen in decades.

"I think we probably saw that during the 1960s during the board of education public policy debate," said Dr. Bonnilla-Santiago. "We've gone back in that sense of urgency where we need to talk about issues of race."

Feelings on both sides of the issues push parents to the polls.

"In some school districts, that could push a county turnout higher," said Dr. Madonna.

"I think it's going to drive the most educated people in communities and neighborhoods," said Dr. Bonnilla-Santiago.

A change that some experts say could be lasting.

"I think it's going to get more difficult, because I think you have a massive movement in this country that has come out that was quiet for a long time," said Dr. Bonnilla-Santiago

"There's always a return to normality," said Dr. Madonna. "The question is how long does it take place."
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