When parents stand up for their children’s education: voting is just the beginning

Julia Balmer, the director of elections and special projects at the League of Women Voters, recently travelled to Fayetteville, North Carolina with a delegation of parents to see how local campaigns and ideas affecting the local community can be transferred to state and national voting.

The Fayetteville School Board race, featuring Candace Welsh, a longtime high school teacher and “president of parents”, versus incumbent Doris Widen, is expected to be one of the key contests in the state.

With a 97% election participation rate and the school system’s community activism, every day in the school and county board meetings, our goal is to bring positive movement and positive narrative to the school board elections.

I was standing at the window while we were driving to Florida from Fayetteville, and I couldn’t help but think: what can happen when young people and parents act together in the same region?

Local school boards are the governing bodies that have the most power to improve things within public education. They have incredible influence over the value of parents’ time, and how the school district operates.

Issues that are very important to families in North Carolina, like a collective bargaining bill impacting families, still have not been resolved or repealed. With local elections, parents are directly participating in a local political system to push for positive outcomes on policies that are directly impacting the lives of their families.

As I started talking to the parents about what had been happening in Fayetteville in regards to voting, I found out that many had been involved with various parent organizations on campus and community organizations off campus, which, in turn, were getting students involved in voter registration, local campaigns and debates. The locals at Fayetteville were using stories, symbols and pictures of their local school system to help spread education to the state and national level.

More than 100 places of worship in the district, which has a large faith-based population, held prayer breakfasts that were widely reported in local newspapers.

School boards across the country are doing the same. As of press time, eight school boards have local district-wide campaigns that are focusing on voter registration, ballot and candidate mailboxes that have reached out to their students, and local campaigns across the US are implementing school-based rallies with music and volunteers.

In Florida, we plan to use the same kind of community mobilization tactics we saw in Fayetteville as we work with the Orange County school board to register citizens as voters and spread voter education, and to train voting volunteers to register voters at local schools and other sites.

After our trip to North Carolina, we’re realizing that once a year, voter registrations aren’t enough.

The races may not be national or state-wide races for governor or congress, but now we can cross that line and impact them as local parents, and impact the lives of their children.

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