Conservative groups lick wounds after school board election loss, vow to continue fighting

By: - November 17, 2023 8:50 am

Cristine Trooien, executive director of the Minnesota Parents Alliance, presented last week’s school board election results during an event at the Brookview Golf Course in Golden Valley on Nov. 16, 2023. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

The Minnesota Parents Alliance and its conservative allies spent thousands on school board races this year, predicting that their candidates who promoted “parental rights” would win big among suburbanites. 

But voters last week rejected the majority of the group’s candidates, electing 11 out of the 44 that MPA endorsed. Despite the losses, MPA did score victories in the state’s largest school district — Anoka-Hennepin — and in Hastings, with three of their four candidates gaining seats on the seven-member school board. 

MPA and its supporters met in Golden Valley Wednesday to absorb their election wins and losses and discuss what’s next. 

The group is “playing the long game,” said Cristine Trooien, executive director of the Minnesota Parents Alliance.

“We are in this for the long haul,” Trooien told a crowd of about 100 at a Golden Valley golf club. “The schools did not get like this overnight, and it’s going to take more than one election cycle to get it back, but the enormous amount of progress that we’ve seen over the 18 months that we’ve been doing this work should really give everybody a lot of cause for hope.”

MPA-backed candidates now have a 5-2 majority on the Hastings school board, according to the group. 

Unlike other right-leaning education advocacy groups — like Moms for Liberty — MPA has not highlighted culture war issues, like opposing rights for trans children or teaching students the role of race and white supremacy in American history.

Instead, MPA says its priority is to strengthen parent-teacher relationships and improve academic achievement. 

The school board victories could also prime candidates for bigger races. Trooien said she would not be surprised if some of the MPA’s newly elected school board candidates ran for state office in the future.

MPA, the Center of the American Experiment and the education advocacy group Opportunity for All Kids hosted the meeting, and they painted a bleak picture of Minnesota’s education system through chart-filled presentations.

Student progress in Minnesota has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest state data show only about half of Minnesota’s public school students are meeting or exceeding grade level standards in reading and math. State officials say the scores indicate students are still recovering from pandemic learning loss.

But for these conservative groups, the key culprits are the state’s education system and the teachers union Education Minnesota.

Earlier this year the Minnesota Legislature passed nearly $2.3 billion in new spending for Minnesota schools, much of which will go toward the general education funding formula and directly to districts.

Devin Foley, executive director with the group Opportunity for All Kids, was critical of the state’s public education system and advocated for vouchers, or public dollars being spent to send kids to private schools.

“We can either look at it as we fund the public education system, or we fund the education of the public,” Foley said Wednesday.

He also criticized Education Minnesota, arguing that the teachers union has failed students.

“At the end of the day, there’s one group that is firmly in control of the education system, top to bottom — that’s Education Minnesota,” Foley said.

Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, in a statement criticized the groups and said their views are unpopular with Minnesotans.

“Nearly every Minnesotan wants the freedom to send their children to a safe, effective public school that welcomes all students, no matter what they look like, where they live, or who they love,” Specht said. “That’s why voters on Nov. 7 ignored the scare stories and conspiracies of anti-union groups and their millionaire funders and overwhelmingly elected candidates endorsed by local unions of educators.”

The state’s teachers union has long been an ally of DFL candidates and the state’s DFL Party.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.