Partisan divide on DEI illustrated in school district mission statements

Dive Brief:

  • Diversity, equity and inclusion are far more likely to be featured in school district mission statements in areas where the majority voted for Joe Biden in 2020, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.
  • In an analysis of 1,314 mission statements from public school districts nationwide, the Pew Research Center found 56% of schools in Democratic-leaning areas mentioned DEI in their mission statements, compared to 26% of those in Republican-leaning areas — a full 30 percentage point difference.
  • Overall, 34% of districts emphasize the importance of DEI in their educational commitments and priorities, according to Pew data. That fell far behind other mission statement topics such as future readiness (80%) and safe and healthy environments (64%), and also behind parent and community involvement (54%), academic programs (47%) and developing academic skills (38%).

Dive Insight:

While DEI was generally mentioned less often than other priorities, it shows the biggest partisan gap between Democratic and Republican districts, according to Pew.

Other topics were more likely to be cited at similar rates by the two types of areas. For instance, 84% of schools in Democratic regions and 79% in Republican regions included future readiness in their mission statements, while 65% of schools in Democratic areas and 64% in Republican areas mentioned safe and healthy environments. 

Districts in predominantly Democratic regions were 10 percentage points more likely to include academic programs in mission statements, according to researchers. Democratic regions also saw a 9 percentage point difference in mentioning the development of academic skills and a 6 percentage point difference regarding student-centered education. 

Differences in the priority given to DEI also emerged by geographical classification: 59% of urban districts mentioned DEI, surpassing those in suburban (51%) and rural/town (25%) areas.

Despite schools’ growing calls for attention to student mental health, the center found only 4% of districts generally mentioned mental health in their mission statements, with 7% in Democratic areas and 4% in Republican areas including the topic. 

These concerns around mental health can be seen in an EAB survey polling nearly 200 superintendents across 37 states where a majority (92%) said the student mental health crisis has worsened since 2019, and 79% said they don’t have enough staff to address the problem. 

The center’s analysis illustrates how politics can directly impact a school’s priorities and operations. 

In just one year, from 2021 to 2022, there was a 250% increase in proposed curriculum censorship bills at the state level, according to a report by PEN America, a nonprofit tracking what critics call state legislation “educational gag orders.” Nearly all of these bills were proposed by Republican legislators, too, according to PEN America said. As more of these bills restricting classroom discussions on topics like race, gender and sexuality became law, educators have increasingly felt targeted.

This article originally appeared in

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