Welcome to Hall Pass. This newsletter keeps you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance. Each week, we bring you a roundup of the latest on school board elections, along with sharp commentary and research from across the political spectrum on the issues confronting school boards in the country’s 14,000 school districts. We’ll also bring you the latest on school board elections and recall efforts, including candidate filing deadlines and election results.
In today’s edition, you’ll find:
- On the issues: The debate over public funding for private religious schools
- School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
- School board recall elections—a mid-year update
- Kennedy v. Bremerton
- Extracurricular: education news from around the web
- Candidate Connection survey
- School board candidates per seat up for election
On the issues
In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues school board members deliberate when they set out to offer the best education possible in their district.
The debate over public funding for private religious schools
In last week’s edition, we reported on the U.S. Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) ruling in Carson v. Makin on June 21. The 6-3 majority ruled that Maine could not deny school tuition assistance to students attending private religious schools if the state provided tuition benefits to students attending secular private schools.
This week, we look at arguments about public funding for private religious schools.
Erwin Chemerinsky writes that state tuition assistance should not pay for private religious schools because it would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Chemerinsky said Thomas Jefferson and James Madison thought public money should only be used for secular purposes and the Supreme Court’s decision reduced the separation between the church and state.
Lea Patterson writes that allowing families to use state tuition assistance to pay for private religious schools does not violate the Establishment Clause because it only gives parents the freedom to choose between many different schooling options. Patterson says since parents make the decisions, the state is not establishing a religion. She said preventing families from using school vouchers at religious schools (but not at other private schools) is discriminatory.
Op-Ed: A ruinous Supreme Court decision to dismantle the wall between church and state | Erwin Chemerinsky, The Los Angeles Times
“The 1st Amendment says that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ In 1947, the Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition against the establishment of religion applied to the actions of state and local governments. All nine justices in that case agreed that this provision is best understood through the words of Thomas Jefferson, that there should be a wall separating church and state. For decades, the court applied this principle in limiting the ability of the government to provide financial support for religious activities, including for religious schools. … The court now blows apart the wall of separation — already damaged by the Trinity Lutheran case — by declaring that any time the government subsidizes private education it is constitutionally required to pay for religious education.”
Supreme Court strikes a blow for religious freedom in education | Lea Patterson, Fox News
“In fact, the Establishment Clause poses no obstacle to school choice programs including religious schools. The reason is simple—when a state empowers parents to choose a school, the funding goes to the school as a result of the parents’ free choice. No one can argue that a state is establishing a religion where the parents independently choose from a wide variety of options. … Writing for a 6-3 majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the Maine ‘effectively penalizes the free exercise of religion’ when it prohibits parents from choosing religious educational options in a school choice program. … No one should have to bear a higher financial burden than their neighbors because they take their faith seriously by choosing a religious education for their children. With the victory in Carson, students and families in Maine and across the nation face a brighter day.”
School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
Ballotpedia has historically covered school board elections in about 500 of the country’s largest districts. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on all of the roughly 14,000 districts with elected school boards.
Election results from the past week
Districts in our scope in Utah held general runoff elections on June 28.
Click the links below to see results.
We’re covering primary elections in the following districts on June 28.
- Alpine School District
- Canyons School District
- Davis School District
- Granite School District
- Jordan School District
- Nebo School District
- Weber School District
Upcoming school board elections
We’re covering the following school board elections on July 19.
- Baltimore County Public Schools
- Cecil County Public Schools
- Frederick County Public Schools
- Harford County Public Schools
- Howard County Public Schools
- Montgomery County Public Schools
- Prince George’s County Public Schools
School board recall elections—a mid-year update
Since 2014, we’ve released mid-year and year-end reports on recall efforts across the country. We recently released our 2022 mid-year recall report.
For the second year in a row, school board members faced more recall efforts than any other group. Eighty officials (33%) who faced recall campaigns in the first half of this year were school board members. In 2021, 48% of officials—126 in total—who faced recall campaigns in the first half of 2021 were school board members.
City council members—the officials who drew the most efforts from 2016 to 2020—accounted for 32% of officials targeted for recall in 2022. Overall, we’ve so far tracked 152 recall efforts against 240 officials—a slight decline from 2021’s midpoint.
So far this year, we’ve tracked 34 school board recall efforts against 80 board members. At the midway point in 2021, recalls targeted 126 school board officials.
We’ve tracked school board recall efforts in 11 states. Michigan, California, and Massachusetts lead with the most recall efforts.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Kennedy v. Bremerton
Last week, we previewed Kennedy v. Bremerton, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning religious expression at a public school and the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. In a 6-3 decision, SCOTUS ruled 6-3 on June 27 that the Bremerton School District (BSD) in Bremerton, Wash., violated assistant high school football coach Joseph Kennedy’s First Amendment rights when it prohibited him from praying at midfield at the end of games. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, which Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Amy Coney Barrett joined (in whole or in part). Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion, which Justices Stepehen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined.
Kennedy, who worked for BSD from 2008 to 2015, would kneel at midfield and say a prayer at the end of football games. The district told Kennedy his actions violated school board policy and required him to stop so as not to risk violating the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. Kennedy said he would not comply. The school district offered to accommodate Kennedy’s prayers by allowing him access to a private location in the school or athletic facilities. Kennedy declined the offers and prayed on the field again after two more games. Kennedy was placed on administrative leave, at which point he sued BSD for violating his right to free speech.
A lower court ruled against Kennedy. In his appeal, Kennedy’s lawyers asked SCOTUS the following questions:
- “Whether a public-school employee who says a brief, quiet prayer by himself while at school and visible to students is engaged in government speech that lacks any First Amendment protection.”
- “Whether, assuming that such religious expression is private and protected by the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses, the Establishment Clause nevertheless compels public schools to prohibit it.”
In his majority opinion, Gorsuch wrote: “It seems clear to us that Mr. Kennedy has demonstrated that his speech was private speech, not government speech. When Mr. Kennedy uttered the three prayers that resulted in his suspension, he was not engaged in speech ‘ordinarily within the scope’ of his duties as a coach…He did not speak pursuant to government policy. He was not seeking to convey a government-created message. He was not instructing players, discussing strategy, encouraging better on-field performance, or engaged in any other speech the District paid him to produce as a coach.”
In her dissenting opinion, Sotomayor wrote: “Today’s decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this Court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection. In doing so, the Court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing States to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance.”
Click here to read more about Kennedy v. Bremerton.
Extracurricular: education news from around the web
This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us!
- Boise student to run for school district board seat: ‘students deserve a voice in their education’ | KTVB
- Schools Are Spending Billions on High-Tech Defense for Mass Shootings | New York Times
- Students Got a Crash Course in Tech During the Pandemic. Now Some Want a Break | EdSurge
- Parents believe school could be more fun for kids | New York Post
- What Would Make Schools Safer? Here’s What Educators Say | EducationWeek
Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district
Everyone deserves to know their candidates. However, we know it can be hard for voters to find information about their candidates, especially for local offices such as school boards. That’s why we created Candidate Connection—a survey designed to help candidates tell voters about their campaigns, their issues, and so much more.
In the 2020 election cycle, 4,745 candidates completed the survey.
If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.
The survey contains over 30 questions, and you can choose the ones you feel will best represent your views to voters. If you complete the survey, a box with your answers will display on your Ballotpedia profile. Your responses will also appear in our mobile app, My Vote Ballotpedia.
And if you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey!
School board candidates per seat up for election
Since 2018, we’ve tracked the ratio of school board candidates to seats up for election within our coverage scope. Greater awareness of issues or conflicts around school board governance can result in more candidates running for each office. Click here to see historical data on this subject.
This year, 2.25 candidates are running for each seat in the 970 school board races we are covering in districts where the filing deadline has passed. The 2.25 candidates per seat is 14.8% more than in 2020.