Education Issues Vault to Top of the G.O.P.’s Presidential Race

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Last week, the College Board purged its Advanced Placement course on African American Studies after the DeSantis administration banned a pilot version, citing readings on queer theory and reparations for slavery. The College Board said the changes were not a bow to political pressure, and had been decided in December.

Mr. DeSantis next rolled out an initiative to end diversity and equity programs in universities, to require courses in Western civilization and to weaken professors’ tenure protections.

Mr. DeSantis’s communications staff did not respond to a request for comment.

The current era of Republican culture-driven attacks on education began in 2020 during the pandemic with a tandem crusade against mask mandates in schools and the supposed influence of critical race theory.

Yet, the political power of opposition to the critical race theory — which became a grab bag for conservative complaints about the teaching of American history and racial inequality — largely petered out by last year’s midterm general elections. A September polling memo by the Republican National Committee warned candidates that “focusing on C.R.T. and masks excites the G.O.P. base, but parental rights and quality education drive independents.”

Of $9.3 million spent on campaign ads that mentioned critical race theory in 2022, in nearly 50 races for House, Senate and governor, almost all was spent during the primaries, according to an analysis by AdImpact. The issue was raised in only eight general election ads.

Conservative groups in 2022 also supported hundreds of candidates in local school board races with limited success. In nearly 1,800 races nationwide, conservative school board candidates who opposed discussions of race or gender in classrooms, or who opposed pandemic responses such as mask requirements, won just 30 percent of races, according to Ballotpedia, a site that tracks U.S. elections.

“The Republicans do a great job of creating issues that aren’t issues,” said John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster who has worked for President Biden. He predicted that, in 2024, education issues that are now being raised by potential Republican presidential candidates would figure in the primary but would turn off voters in the general election.

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