Moms for Liberty’s focus on school races nationwide sets up political clash with teachers unions

Moms for Liberty founders Tiffany Justice, right, and Tina Descovich speak on Friday at the Moms for Liberty meeting in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA — Moms for Liberty, a “parental rights” group that has sought to take over school boards in multiple states, is looking to expand those efforts across the country and to other education posts in 2024 and beyond. The effort is setting up a clash with teachers unions and others on the left who view the group as a toxic presence in public schools.

The group’s co-founder, Tiffany Justice, said during its annual summit over the weekend in Philadelphia that Moms for Liberty will use its political action committee next year to engage in school board races nationwide. It also will “start endorsing at the state board level and elected superintendents.”

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Her comments confirm that Moms for Liberty, which has spent its first two years inflaming school board meetings with aggressive complaints about instruction on systemic racism and gender identity in the classroom, is developing a larger strategy to overhaul education infrastructure across the country.

As the group has amassed widespread conservative support and donor funding, its focus on education ensures that even as voters turn their attention to the 2024 presidential race, school board elections will remain some of the most contentious political fights next year.

Moms for Liberty started with three Florida moms fighting COVID-19 restrictions in 2021. It has quickly ascended as a national player in Republican politics, helped along the way by the board’s political training and close relationships with high-profile GOP groups and lawmakers. The group’s support for school choice and the “fundamental rights of parents” to direct their children’s education has drawn allies such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leading GOP presidential contender, and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The group has been labeled an “extremist” organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center for allegedly harassing community members, advancing anti-LGBTQ+ misinformation and fighting to scrub diverse and inclusive material from lesson plans.

Justice said in an interview that she and her co-founder, Tina Descovich, were two moms who “had faith in American parents to take back the public education system in America” and that they “fully intend on reclaiming and reforming” that system.

So far, the group has had mixed success at getting its preferred candidates elected. In 2022, slightly more than half of the 500 school board candidates it endorsed across the country won. In the spring of 2023, fewer than one-third of the nearly 30 candidates it endorsed in Wisconsin were elected.

Focusing on state-level candidates could give Moms for Liberty an opportunity to assert its influence on some of the positions that have more control in determining curriculum, said Jon Valant, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied education policy.

Moms for Liberty may face obstacles, however, as its rising national presence has driven a countermovement of activists who oppose it, Valant said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said she thinks groups such as Moms for Liberty have “created more action and more energy” among teachers unions.

“We have 41 new units that we have organized as the AFT this year. We’ve never had that,” she said.

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