Jan Greenhawk, Easton Gazette
When Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich started Moms for Liberty in Florida two years ago, their main goal was to influence local school policy and school boards in the Sunshine State through a non-profit social welfare group. Both had served on the school boards in their districts and saw the abuses that occur in school systems from the inside. They met each other, found a common mission to protect parental rights in education, and started Moms for Liberty. As the organization grew in the state, it became a player in Florida education, helping candidates for school boards and getting the ear of legislators and Governor Ron DeSantis. *
A little over two years later, the group is established in 44 states with almost 300 chapters and approximately 120,000 members. It has grown organically as parents across the country woke up to the fact that their parental rights were being usurped in the schools.
June 29th through July 2nd, Moms for Liberty took another major step forward as they hosted their Second Annual Joyful Warrior Summit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The event was not only sold out, but featured Presidential Candidates President Donald Trump, Governor Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Asa Hutchison. Candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was scheduled to speak but withdrew.
The elevation of education to a focus issue of the 2024 campaign has been developing for a while. In June, 2022, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the Department of Education to devise rules to "protect" LGBTQ students in public schools by permitting schools to expose children in Grades K - 12 to instruction to sexual orientation and gender identity, allowing transgender males to participate in female sports, and encouraging school counselors to hide decisions from parents about their child's possible change of gender identity. This action highlighted the concerns of parents across the country and voiced by groups like Moms for Liberty. Politicians began to sit up and take notice.
If attendance of five Presidential Candidates and a sold-out summit isn't enough to show the influence Moms for Liberty has, protestors from several left-wing groups like the Young Communists League, PFlag (formerly known as Parents Flag) and other extremists also showed up, making threats to the host hotel, the city and to the attendees.
It's clear that education issues have turned the corner from being on the outside of the political scene to being front and center.
Thus, five Presidential candidates showed up in Philadelphia this weekend to share their ideas and plans for education and garner the support of the group.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed the group first on Friday, referencing actions he has taken in Florida to keep sexual and gender indoctrination out of school curriculums and textbooks by enacting curriculum transparency laws and forcing textbook publishers to edit offensive content out of their books if they are to be used in Florida. He spoke about giving parents school choice with initiatives that allow the money allotted for students to follow those students to private schools if parents so desire. Florida has extensive charter school choices as well.
DeSantis reminded the audience that he was the first to reopen schools and remove mask mandates during the Covid scare. On May 15, 2023, he signed legislation to defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at all state universities, calling the programs discriminatory. He called universities to "missions" that treat people as individuals, not merely members of various racial or other identity groups.
He also mentioned signing legislation that prohibits men to compete in women's sports and legislation that forbids teachers from requiring students to choose pronouns.
While speaking at the Summit, he reminded attendees that the attacks he and the group are suffering are a "sign that we are winning." He referenced the fact that he and his wife have three children which makes education a critical issue for him. DeSantis has signed into effect a parental rights bill in Florida. " Parents across Florida, regardless of party, they appreciated that. They wanted their kids focused on math and reading and key subjects."
DeSantis added, " We will fight and do battle with anybody or any institution that is seeking to rob our children of their innocence and on those principles, we will never compromise."
Donald Trump swept into Philadelphia Friday afternoon and entered the venue with his typical "Proud to Be an American" music by Lee Greenwood and an emotional standing ovation with chants of "We love Trump!" After a brief series of thank you's, he announced, "Don't mess with America's moms" again bringing the crowd to its feet.
Trump referenced how the Department of Justice targeted "Patriotic parents at school board meetings" and that they slandered Moms for Liberty as a "hate group" but that the group is made up of "Joyful Warriors" standing up for children.
Reminding the group that he implemented the "Every Student Succeeds Act" that eliminated the use of common core as a condition for federal funding of schools, the former President stated that his administration also gave every parent $10,000 a year tax free to send their child to the public, private, or religious school of their choice. He also signed an executive order for every public college to allow free speech for all on campus and signed the first ban on critical race theory training in the federal government.
Some of his more novel ideas for his next term if elected was to fire every corrupt official who targeted Moms for Liberty. He also pledged to move control of education back to the states by virtually eliminating the Department of Education, promoting curriculum transparency, adopting universal choice for parents, defeating gender ideology in order to protect children from mutilation of their bodies, and the right to choose local Superintendents and Principals.
He closed by thanking "the great moms of this country as we work together to "make America great."
Underdog candidate Vivek Ramaswamy opened his remarks by touting himself as the first "millennial "ever to run for President. After professing his belief in American values, he vowed to shut down the administrative state starting with agencies "that should not exist like the U.S. Department of Education."
He counted down the truths that this country was founded on including the idea that "Parents determine the education of their children."
Later on, he brought his wife and two sons on the stage to answer questions with Moms for Liberty founder Tiffany Justice. When describing his five-year-old son's understanding of liberty and freedom of speech Vivek stated, " I would like to think that early on at a young age is actually when we start teaching these kids the values that ground us as Americans."
When asked about shutting down the Department of Education, Vivek listed ideas such as stopping public school teachers from entering teachers' unions, increasing competition between public and private school education, transparency of curriculum and lessons, teaching civics again, and a model of school choice where the tax funding for educating each student follows the student.
Vivek reminded the group that he signed the Moms for Liberty pledge to support parental rights.
Nikki Haley addressed the crowd about her family history and her performance in the State House and as the Governor of South Carolina. Her opening line was that people think moms only care about schools. Haley reminded the crowd that "moms care about everything!" She expressed the importance of education to her poor, immigrant family.
On education, Haley spoke about how low academic test scores are while the schools teach critical race theory. She also spoke out against biological boys competing with girls in sports and sharing their bathrooms. She referenced that Johns Hopkins defined a woman as someone who is a "non-man" and that this shows an intent to erase all the progress women have made. "We have to fight for our girls!"
Haley stated that while she was Governor of South Carolina they introduced reading remedial programs and summer programs. They brought parents into the process and insisted on transparency in the curriculum.
Asa Hutchinson, former Governor of Arkansas and Presidential candidate also addressed education in his presentation. He reviewed his demand that school districts put curriculum on district websites and allow parents more say in what their children are taught. He also supported school choice and more instruction in computer science in high schools. He promised to prohibit school systems from influencing students regarding gender ideology.
During the 2022 election, local political power brokers and high-ranking elected officials in my area told Conservative candidates for county councils and state offices to steer away from education as a topic for campaigns. They said it was not an important issue that would get them elected and it could actually hurt them. They cited law and order, the economy, election integrity and immigration as much more important. Our area was no different than many areas of the country. All of those other issues are still important, but for 2024 it appears that the education of our children and parental rights may be central issues, and they are issues that Moms for Liberty owns.
Five candidates for President, all highlighting education as an important issue in the 2024 election. All speaking at the Moms for Liberty Summit, the national summit of a group that didn't exist prior to 2020. This is what real influence looks like.
*This is the first of a four part series on the Moms for Liberty Summit
Note: Jan is the current Moms for Liberty Chapter Chair in her home county.