By\u00a0Brian Lopez\r\nVoters across Texas on Saturday elected a bevy of\u00a0conservative Texas school board candidates,\u00a0emboldening state Republicans who are\u00a0increasingly getting involved in nonpartisan local elections.\r\nGOP leaders portray the victories as parents rejecting what they call left-wing ideologies \u2014 and getting behind the notions that critical race theory is being taught in schools and that children are given access to overly sexualized books.\r\nAnd school board campaign vows to rid schools of critical race theory come after the Texas Legislature last year passed a law limiting how race, the history of slavery, and current events are taught in schools. It was dubbed the \u201ccritical race theory\u201d bill, even though the legislation never mentioned the term.\r\n\u201cRepublicans dominated school board races across Texas because parents are fed up with left-wing garbage,\u201d said Texas GOP chair Matt Rinaldi, who declined to be interviewed for this story but provided a statement. \u201cThe Republican Party of Texas will continue to support education over indoctrination and plans to expand our efforts in local and nonpartisan races.\u201d\r\nBut more GOP involvement in local politics may not be the only effect of Saturday\u2019s elections. Experts believe campaigning on culture wars is a winning strategy for the GOP. And, they say, it will embolden Republicans to continue passing laws based on political wedge issues during next year\u2019s legislative session.\r\n\u201cThe state party wants to continue to ride this wave,\u201d said Rebecca Deen, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.\r\nTeachers and public education experts have repeatedly pointed out that critical race theory \u2014 a university-level concept that examines how racism shapes laws and policies \u2014 is not taught in K-12 public schools. And many of the books targeted for removal from school libraries in recent months tell the stories of LGBTQ characters and people of color.\r\nBut Texas Republicans are following a national playbook of\u00a0feeding off conservative parents' fears\u00a0that \u201ccritical race theory\u201d is being taught in public schools and children are being exposed to obscene sexual content.\r\nConservative school board candidates saw victories across the state, but most notably, they won big in Tarrant County, which has been moving away from its perch as one of America\u2019s reddest urban counties. The county had 10 candidates win their races with the backing of the\u00a0conservative Patriot Mobile Action PAC, which poured half a million dollars into the races.\r\nIn the Lake Travis Independent School District, northwest of Austin, all three conservative candidates backed by the Lake Travis Families PAC secured seats on the school board. And in Katy, a Houston suburb, a candidate promising to \u201cremove graphic, vulgar books\u201d and \u201cresist efforts to sexualize our children at an early age\u201d handily defeated his opponents.\r\nThe Texas GOP\u00a0paraded\u00a0the school board win as a victory for the party. The state party says it is fighting hard to elect conservative candidates from governor all the way to the school board.\r\nRepublican Gov.\u00a0Greg Abbott, who is seeking a third term in November, has\u00a0said that\u00a0the \u201cpower of parents will continue to expand.\u201d He is campaigning on his support for a so-called \u201cparental bill of rights,\u201d even though parents already have such rights outlined in the state\u2019s education code.\r\nDays after the recent school board races, Abbott\u00a0voiced his support\u00a0for a long-sought goal that has eluded conservatives in Texas: giving parents the option to send their kids to private school \u201cwith state funding following the student.\u201d\r\nCritics of so-called school vouchers say they hurt public schools because they divert state funding away from public school districts.\r\nLt. Gov.\u00a0Dan Patrick\u00a0echoed Abbott\u2019s support for such vouchers.\r\n\u201cTexas has over 5 million students in our public school system. That\u2019s more students than some states have people,\u201d Patrick said in a press release this week. \u201cWe can support school choice and, at the same time, create the best public education system in America. These issues are not in conflict with each other.\u201d\r\nPatrick also wants the Texas Legislature next year to pass a law that mirrors Florida\u2019s \u201cDon\u2019t Say Gay Bill,\u201d which is a conservative push to limit classroom discussions about LGBTQ people. Both Abbott and Patrick made\u00a0parental rights\u00a0a priority as they both seek reelection in November.\r\nPatrick did not immediately respond to an interview request. Sen.\u00a0Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, a\u00a0leading figure\u00a0in recent conservative policy, did not respond to an interview request. State Rep.\u00a0Keith Bell, R-Forney, who co-authored the state\u2019s first critical race theory law, did not immediately respond to an interview request.\r\nState Rep.\u00a0Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, who serves on the House Public Education Committee, said lawmakers next year need to focus on the real issues the public education system is facing, such as learning loss due to COVID-19, the teacher shortage, and mental health challenges, he said.\r\n\u201cThe issues that schools have been facing over the past two years have nothing to do with what the [Republican] party is focused on,\u201d Bernal said. \u201cI give them credit for manufacturing these issues to distract from the real ones and the big ones that are facing us.\u201d\r\nClay Robison, spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association, said the Republican party is showing that it is more interested in ideological policy rather than materially helping the public school systems.\r\nRobison suspects that the conservative candidates who won these school board races will lobby in Austin for ideological issues such as parental rights and school vouchers.\r\n\u201cThe Legislature needs to reset its focus from this ideology and reset it on really funding public education,\u201d he said.\r\nThis story was originally published by the Texas Tribune.