Alabama Republicans have told teachers unions to stay out of their school-related elections.
The Alabama Republican Party recently voted to ban GOP candidates for the Alabama Board of Education, local school boards, and county school superintendent from accepting donations from teachers unions.
John Wahl, chairman of the Alabama GOP, says the change was needed to ensure that parents, and not special-interest groups, have control over their children’s education.
“There’s only one purpose that these education unions exist, and that’s to lobby for their facet of the education system,” Wahl says. “There’s only one reason school boards and superintendents exist, and that is to put forth the policies that regulate the school systems, so it’s a direct conflict of interest.”
Wahl joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain what this change means for protecting parental rights in Alabama. Wahl also weighs in on the priorities of Alabama voters and what we can expect at the first GOP presidential debate on Aug. 23.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure to be joined today by Alabama GOP Chairman John Wahl. Chairman Wahl, thanks so much for being with us today.
John Wahl: No, it’s a pleasure to be on the show.
Allen: Well, the Alabama Republican Party just voted to ban GOP candidates for the Alabama Board of Education, local school boards, and country school superintendents from receiving donations from teachers unions. Why did you-all vote to block these candidates from receiving donations from the National Education Association or their affiliates?
Wahl: For me, it’s a really easy answer to that question. I want parents to be in charge of the children’s education. I want our elected officials to put the children first, to put parents first, above any special-interest group and especially a liberal teachers union.
We see some of these policies are coming out of the NEA and the national level. They’re so woke, they’re so progressive, and I believe they care more about indoctrinating our children than they do about educating our children. So we’re going to try to put an end to that here in Alabama.
Allen: Well, this is a big step and it’s one that I can imagine might receive a little bit of criticism because people might say, “Well, doesn’t this give Democrat candidates a strategic advantage over Republican candidates in the state since Democrat candidates will still be allowed to receive campaign donations from teachers unions?” What’s your response to that?
Wahl: Once again, I have a good response for that. This is Alabama. I’ve worked very hard building the state party here. We just did our summer dinner. We had President Donald Trump as a guest speaker. We raised $1.2 million at that dinner. My winter dinner, we raised 700,000.
So I told all the school board candidates this simple fact: I will have your back. Who would you rather take money from? A Liberal teachers union or the state Republican Party?
So our candidates are not going to have to worry about any missed funding in the general elections. We’re going to have their back. We’re going to make sure no missed money and we’re going to win every one of these seats we can possibly win.
Allen: So, give us a little bit of a sense of the landscape in Alabama, specifically around the issue of education.
Obviously, in my state of Virginia, I live in Northern Virginia, the fight around education has made national news in Loudoun County. Everyone’s very familiar with policies being pushed in California schools that are incredibly far left. What has the fight looked like in Alabama to make sure that leftist policies aren’t making their way into the classrooms?
Wahl: Well, I think that’s the battle we’re under. Because, especially in a super-red state like Alabama, the assumption, as you know, we should have a better education system as far as these woke policies.
But what people forget is most of our curriculum is coming down from a federal Department of Education that, in all honesty, has completely lost touch with the American people and the values of America—this idea that America is special, that our Founding Fathers had this great concept of we the people and freedom, and that America is an exceptional nation.
It’s a test, if you will, of, can a nation actually be founded on freedom and put people first and individual liberty first and limited government, and really stand up for these principles and create a new nation that really had never been tried before in human history?
The federal Department of Education has just lost sight of those concepts. We’ve seen them grow so woke and so out of touch with the American public, and that’s coming down through that department into our education system. Whether it’s California, whether it’s New York City or whether it’s Alabama, we’re kind of getting this cookie-cutter education system and I think that’s what’s really wrong across the country.
Allen: With this move to say those who are running for these education positions within the state of Alabama, whether it’s the State Board of Education, local school boards, or county school superintendent, what are the responses that you’re receiving from teachers and parents in Alabama over this change?
Wahl: The general public is incredibly excited about it. A lot of parents feel like they are out of touch. Some of them don’t have access to the curriculum that their children are being taught or their children are bringing home material that they just really are not happy about.
I’m excited to also report, a lot of our local teachers have the same sentiment. You know, in Alabama, most of our teachers are Republican and they believe in these core values and so when they see some of this curriculum, they’re not wanting to teach it, either.
I’ve actually had a very good response, even from some of the school board members, they’ve been tremendous. They’re actually excited because this frees them from having to worry about being tied down by these education unions that for so long have controlled the education system.
Allen: Have you spoken with any GOP candidates, folks who are looking to run and who maybe are now having to rethink where some of their donations are going to come from? What do you anticipate to hear from them?
Wahl: I have spoken to a couple of the incumbents who are up for reelection this time and some of those that I spoke to were actually some of those that were excited about this change. They really felt like this is something that frees them to really put the people first and they don’t have to worry about undue influence from a special-interest group.
Guys, let’s be honest. There’s only one purpose that these education unions exist, and that’s to lobby for their facet of the education system. There’s only one reason school boards and superintendents exist, and that is to put forth the policies that regulate the school systems so it’s a direct conflict of interest.
That’s what this is really about, good policy and taking that direct conflict of interest out. I’ve been very impressed with how many people are excited to see that, that they understand the problem and they’re very grateful to have this done.
Allen: How big of an impact do you think that this will have on really keeping a lot of the woke agenda out of our schools? Because I think, at the end of the day, so many parents are opting to pull their kids out of the public schools because they can’t know for sure, they can’t be certain that their child is not going to be receiving really an indoctrination education. So with this shift in Alabama, can you confidently tell parents, “You can send your child to a public school and have peace of mind”?
Wahl: This is really just one piece of the puzzle, and I think there’s so many things that are needed. This is a great step.
I also am very supportive of school choice, the idea, the tag, once again, go back to the parents. Who should have control of a child’s education? It’s the parents, not the government. Who cares more about what their children are facing than the parents do?
So this is really just one piece of a puzzle and it’s going to be a long, hard process to really get our education system back where it needs to be and I think, hopefully, this moves us in that direction.
Allen: Let’s talk a little bit about school choice because you have been such an advocate for school choice in the state of Alabama. The Heritage Foundation’s Education Freedom Report Card ranks Alabama 27th on school choice. What school choice programs are you advocating for in Alabama?
Wahl: I want to see, I almost hate to use the word universal because that’s more of a Democratic term, but a universal school choice system.
It should not be based on where anyone lives. It should not be based on economics or anything else. Every student should have access to school choice. They should have access to equal funding that the state would spend on their education if they want to opt out and spend that money otherwise.
You know, this goes back to giving control back, not just to parents. This is a Republican concept of giving control back to the people. “We the people” is the beginning of the Constitution. I very much view a system that is 100% of the funding the state would spend and that every single student in the state has access to it.
Allen: Of course, we have an election coming next year and a lot of folks are asking, what are those issues that are on the hearts and minds of Americans? In the state of Alabama, how highly does the education issue rank among voters, would you say?
Wahl: Oh, I think it’s No. 1. So, it’s actually interesting. Here at the state party—I love information, I love statistics and looking at polling data, and one of the things I wanted to see was, literally, ask the question you just asked: What issue is most important to you?
As I did this, I did tend to something a little bit different because I’ve noticed this trend that education issues seem mid-table when that question is asked, what most consultants asked. They would throw a question in, like, “What issue is most important?” You name off a few things—the economy, creating jobs. In our state, lottery would be on that list and then on there would be improving schools.
So I asked similar questions that would be normally asked in that range of questions, but I took out just “improved schools” and, instead, I put in the term “protecting children from woke policies.”
When I did that, we got a fascinating return in the polling. It went from a mid-table issue, just schools in general, but when you ask the question, “protect children from woke policies,” it was No. 1. It was No. 1 amongst Republicans, it was No. 1 amongst independents. And even amongst Democrats, protecting children from woke policies was the third-most important issue.
That really highlights to me just how far we’ve gotten and how far out of touch the national Democrat Party and the Biden administration have gotten on this issue.
What was most encouraging to me was the response from African Americans for the survey because it was within the margin of error being the most important issue to African Americans in the state of Alabama.
Allen: Well, Chairman Wahl, I want to get your thoughts on some of the coming debates and what we might be seeing, specifically from Republican candidates.
The Alabama Republican Party is likely to co-host a GOP debate sometime this fall. The first GOP debate, though, is on Aug. 23. What do you think that the American people are going to be watching for and looking for in that debate?
Wahl: You know, it’s a great question because I think a lot of the candidates are going to say the same basic thing. This is a Republican primary. They’re going to be talking about fiscal responsibility. They’re going to be talking about even the pro-life issue. They’re going to be talking about protecting children from woke policies.
I think what the Republican primary voters are looking for is not so much a candidate who has the best rhetoric, because they’re all going to be very similar. They’re looking for which candidate do they trust to actually deliver and I think that’s something that is getting ignored.
It almost doesn’t matter, I think, what the exact issues are, what the No. 1 issue to voters right now is, do they have faith in that candidate to be able to—does that candidate truly believe these things and do they have the will to stand up and the backbone to fight when they’re put into a foxhole on these important issues?
Allen: Any predictions of what we’re going to see on Aug. 23 during this first GOP presidential candidate debate?
Wahl: I think it’s going to be an extremely interesting thing and, of course, right now all questions are, does Donald Trump come? I think that’s going to be very much a game-changer in that. And if he doesn’t, what do the other candidates do? Do they still target him and kind of go after him even though he’s not there? I don’t know. It’s going to be very, very interesting to see.
This first debate is going to be where people really get to see, the first time, a lot of these candidates. Will we see shifts? Who kind of comes out of this as a dark horse, if you will?
Allen: It’s going to be really fascinating to watch. Mr. Wahl, thank you so much for being with us today. We really appreciate your time.
Wahl: No, it is a pleasure to be here. I appreciate the work that so many conservatives do across the country, and glad to be a small part of the fight, as our Founding Fathers would’ve said, the animated contest for liberty.
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