EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

In 1996, conservative Christian activist Ralph Reed declared, “I would rather have a thousand school board members than one president and no school board members.” As today’s school board meetings devolve into screaming matches and fistfights over mask requirements, vaccine mandates, and anti-racist curriculums, conservatives are once again growing their influence within one of the most underrated power structures in American politics.

Back in the 1990s, leaders on the religious right began to realize that school boards wield an enormous amount of power—both in their control over students’ experiences, and in the way they can shape the debates that define other races on the ballot. So the Christian Coalition led a campaign to elect as many social conservatives onto school boards as they could.

Today, the right is turning its attention back to school boards, and the consequences for progressives and students across the country could be dire. While most school board races are officially nonpartisan, most candidates nevertheless identify with a particular political ideology—and securing wins down-ballot can improve a movement’s prospects up-ballot. By mobilizing conservative candidates to run for school elections—and encouraging their base to disrupt public meetings—Republicans are building a strong organizational structure to help them fight culture wars on the ground and seize power from the bottom up.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.