‘Moms for Liberty’ continues push into South Dakota education policy conversation

The conservative, Florida based education advocacy group has three chapters already formed in South Dakota, at least it’s 44th state with a chapter. The South Dakota chapters have advocated for changes at the local school board level.
The conservative, Florida based education advocacy group has three chapters already formed in South Dakota.
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 8:40 PM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - Lagging standardized test scores, sexually explicit content in schools, and a growing interest in education policy across the country — all three factors have helped give rise to the growth of “Moms for Liberty” in South Dakota.

Amy Bruner chairs the Minnehaha County Chapter, which has grown to over 100 members since starting in November 2022.

“When we started Moms for Liberty this past fall, we were looking for ways to talk about issues that impact our children as parents,” Bruner said.

It was the second Moms for Liberty chapter in the state of South Dakota, formed shortly after the Hughes County chapter. A Pennington County would come together shortly thereafter.

The national organization was founded in Florida in 2021, largely in response to COVID-19-related mandates in schools. Since then, it’s grown to have a presence in at least 44 states.

The group has been picking up momentum in South Dakota, too. Last week, Gov. Kristi Noem signed the organization’s candidate pledge to “advance policies that strengthen parental decision-making.”

“Every day, it seems like we have more and more excited families who reach out to us,” Bruner explained. “They want to work together with other families, and they want to work together with school districts to improve policy and do what is best for their kids.”

Dan Cronin, president of the Pierre School Board, has been on the receiving end of criticism from the Hughes County chapter for about a year now.

Moms for Liberty has honed in particularly on the district’s lagging standardized test scores. According to an annual report card released by the South Dakota Department of Education, roughly half of test-takers in the Pierre School District are not proficient in math or language arts.

Now, Cronin faces a Moms for Liberty-backed candidate in a race for his school board seat next month.

“There is more to school than a grade on a report card or a test score,” Cronin said. “So I think you have to look at the bigger picture and not just a third-grade test score given on one day of the year.”

At the same time, the conversation on education amongst conservative organizations and politicians in the state continues. Last month, the South Dakota Board of Education Standards passed new social studies standards championed by Gov. Kristi Noem. This past legislative session, state lawmakers brought bills to provide for universal school choice and to limit access to “obscene materials” for minors in public schools.

“We have more control over our local politics than over other areas of politics,” said Heather Fields, chair of the Pennington County chapter of Moms for Liberty. “It is ironic that the presidential races and even the gubernatorial races get the big news, but the people that actually impact our day-to-day lives are our local officials. I think school board races are some of the most important elections going on in the country today.”

Cronin, who considers himself a proponent of the work that Moms for Liberty has done in other states, feels the organization’s work in South Dakota so far has been reactive.

“I don’t know if what we are experiencing now is a reaction to the national environment,” Cronin said. “We don’t want this to happen in Pierre, so we are going to get more active. I am not sure. I don’t quite understand all of what might be happening now. We are not used to this.”