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The Surprising Reason More Women Are Running for School Board

Photograph by Twenty20

If you were inspired by the Women's March, you're not alone. Although the organizers give concrete examples of what we can all do in the first 100 days, that's not stopping more of us from reaching further—all the way to political office, in fact.

According to a report by the Associated Press, this past election and the Women's March have prompted more women of color to run for office. But not only that. The nomination and subsequent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as the head of the U.S. Department of Education has prompted even more women to run for the school board.

Allison Kruk—who spent a good chunk of time attempting to convince Republican Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey to cast his vote against the DeVos confirmation—is one of those women. She called, emailed and wrote letters about how she thought DeVos was "incredibly incompetent, regardless of your position on school choice," according to NPR. She even spent two and a half hours in his office and collected 11,000 signatures on a petition from educators all over the state. She hand-delivered her petition results, as well as letters from parents and teachers, but to no avail.

Toomey cast his vote to confirm DeVos. Yet instead of feeling defeated, 23-year-old Kruk—a financial journalist and Princeton grad who is not a mom, but has interned in public schools and tutored in New Jersey prisons during college—decided to run for the school board in suburban Philadelphia, where she now lives. And it seems that she's not the only one who feels protecting schools starts locally.

The DeVos confirmation, a tie on the Senate floor which was broken by Vice President Mike Pence, has pushed women to stand up for their communities. The wealthy Republican donor, who by all accounts seems to have almost no experience in public education, only had two Republican senators vote against her. Due to their "concerns about a nominee to be secretary of education who has been so involved in one side of the equation, so immersed in the push for vouchers," Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement alongside Maine Sen. Susan Collins before the confirmation, "she may be unaware of what actually is successful within the public schools, and also what is broken and how to fix them," according to the New York Times.

While their defection wasn't enough to keep DeVos from being confirmed, the power of the people wanting to save public education just might be.

According to NPR, the election caused a surge in political interest among young Democrats and progressives. And the DeVos confirmation has particularly influenced millennials running for office.

Run for Something, a newly launched political action committee dedicated to recruiting and supporting young candidates with progressive values, has definitely noticed.

In interviews, most women cite their children or helping kids in their communities as major reasons why they have decided to run for offices such as school board, city council and more.

"Since Betsy DeVos' confirmation, we've had a flood of people come and say specifically, 'I want to run for school board to protect the schools in my hometown,'" Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something, told NPR.

Meanwhile, for women of color, the motivation is just as clear: helping their communities.

Although advocacy groups say it's still too early to determine how many women showing interest in running will formally file papers, many believe that the number could triple, according to the AP.

One such group, VoteRunLead, has seen participation in their webinar "From Protester to Politician" jump from the typical 50 to 100 participants to more than 1,000 per session since November, with about half of those being women of color.

"From our inboxes to our social media sites, we can't keep up with the fire hose," said VoteRunLead director Erin Vilardi.

In interviews with both NPR and AP, most cite their children or helping kids in their communities as major reasons why they have decided to run for offices such as school board, city council and more.

"I couldn't face my kids," said Kathleen Daniel, who decided to run for New York's City Council the day after Trump's election. The 46-year-old mother of two, who is black, decided to "jump in" after her 12-year-old son refused to wear his coat to school that day because he did not want to be seen in a hoodie, fearing that Trump would bring back "stop and frisk."

Victoria Sterling declared her candidacy for school board on Jan. 3 in Jefferson City, Missouri, where two-thirds of voters chose Trump as their president. The 32-year-old mental health advocate, who hopes to adopt a child with her fiancé, was inspired by local issues after she "saw that there was a lack of trust in the school system." For her, a platform of transparency is key, since "people are concerned about whether taxpayer dollars are being used wisely."

"Public education builds our future workforce," she told NPR, "and the school scores are what people look at when they decide whether to live here."

Many feel similar sentiments and will be striving to "figure out how to manage [changes DeVos makes] and continue to give a solid public education," said 31-year-old Shant Sahakian, who grew up in one of the largest Armenian communities in the U.S. and is running for school board to help people like his son—born one day before the presidential election.

Most importantly, though, those who have found new inspiration in today's tumultuous political climate to run for office are standing up for what they believe is right, and not giving up.

"I don't know if I'll win or not, but I know this," said 44-year-old Monica Behnken, who is seeking a seat on the Ames School Board in Iowa. "This is what I'm supposed to be doing at this moment."

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