Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #20

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 prayer for school employees 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Arizona Legislature passes bill to expand Empowerment Scholarship Account program
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey
  • School board candidates per seat up for election

Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!

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 prayer for school employees

In last week’s edition, we discussed the Supreme Court’s ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton. The majority held 6-3 that the Bremerton County School Board could not prevent a school football coach from praying on a football field following a game under the First Amendment’s protections for free religious exercise. 

This week, we look at arguments related to the case.

Erwin Chemerinsky writes that any prayer in public schools is inherently coercive and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Chemerinsky says public schools should be completely secular and the court’s ruling could allow teachers to lead students in prayer during breaks or during lunch hours.  

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board writes that the court’s decision properly protected the football coach’s prayer First Amendment rights. The Board says the Founders intended to allow people to express their religious views and that the prayer was private and did not amount to a public establishment of religion.

Op-Ed: The Supreme Court demolishes another precedent separating church and state | Erwin Chemerinsky, The Los Angeles Times

“In the early 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled that prayer in public schools, even voluntary prayer, violates the 1st Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion. The court said that when teachers lead prayers, there is inherent coercion. Students of different faiths and of no faith feel pressure to participate. The core of the Establishment Clause is that the government, especially in its public schools, should be secular; the place for prayer is in people’s homes and places of worship. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing the majority opinion, declared: ‘Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic — whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head.’ This approach has no stopping point. It would seem now that any public school teacher would have the right to lead students in prayer so long as it was before school, during breaks or at lunch rather than at formal school activities. Any restriction beyond that would be considered by this court to be an unconstitutional limit on the teacher’s speech and free exercise of religion.”

A Football Coach’s Prayer Is Constitutional | The Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Mr. Kennedy’s prayer was private conduct. It took place after the game, when staff were free to check their phones or chat up spectators. If Mr. Kennedy’s action is considered government speech, Justice Gorsuch writes, then “a school could fire a Muslim teacher for wearing a headscarf in the classroom or prohibit a Christian aide from praying quietly over her lunch in the cafeteria. … Justice Gorsuch’s opinion is carefully narrow and excludes coercion. On the law, Justice Sotomayor says the majority fails to respect the tension between the Constitution’s ban on religious establishment and its guarantee of religious free exercise. Justice Gorsuch replies that the First Amendment makes both promises in a single sentence. … The Supreme Court is gradually restoring a proper constitutional understanding of the relationship between religion and the state. The Court in the 20th century began to use the Establishment Clause to let government restrict religious behavior and speech that is protected by the Free Exercise Clause. The Roberts Court’s religious liberty rulings don’t risk any state establishment of religion. But they do let Americans of faith express their views—as the Founders intended.”

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.

States with school board filing deadlines in the next 30 days   


  • The filing deadline for Nov. 8 school board general elections in Arizona is July 11. 


  • The filing deadline for districts within our scope holding Nov. 8 primaries is July 22. 


  • Four seats on the Ann Arbor Public Schools school board are up for election Nov. 8. The filing deadline is July 26. 

New Jersey

  • Three seats on the Jersey City Public Schools school board are up for election Nov. 8. The filing deadline is July 25. 

Upcoming school board elections


We’re covering the following school board elections on July 19.

Arizona Legislature passes bill to expand Empowerment Scholarship Account program 

In June, the Arizona Legislature passed House Bill 2853. The bill would allow all K-12 students to use taxpayer-funded education accounts to attend schools or pay for curriculum or tutoring outside the public school system. 

House Bill 2853 awaits Gov. Doug Ducey’s (R) signature. Ducey has indicated he will sign the bill. In a June 27 tweet, Ducey said, “Arizona was the first state to create education savings accounts, now we’re the first to open them to all K-12 students.” The Arizona Senate voted 16-10 to pass HB 2853 on June 24. The House passed the bill 31-26 on June 22. Republicans control the Senate 16-14 and the House 31-29.  

HB 2853 expands the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program to all students. In 2011, the Legislature created the ESA program, which provides eligible students wirth taxpayer-funded scholarship accounts for use outside of the public education system. Qualified students receive up to 90% of the money that would have gone to the public school in which they were enrolled. EdChoice, an organization that advocates for school choice programs, estimates the average scholarship for students without special needs was $6,400 in 2021. Special needs students typically receive a larger scholarship. The Arizona Department of Education’s last quarterly update on the program, sent May 9, put the total number of students in the program at 11,775. More than half the students—7,094—were categorized as special needs. The Arizona Department of Education reported that a total of 1,132,567 were enrolled in the state’s public schools in the 2021-2022 school year. 

The Legislature initially reserved the accounts for students with disabilities. Over time, the Legislature expanded the eligibility requirements to include, among other categories, students with an active-duty military parent, students with disabled parents, students living on reservations, and students from failing public schools. 

According to the Arizona Department of Education, “ESA funding can be used to pay private school tuition, for curriculum, home education, tutoring and more.”

Proponents of HB 2853 say the bill gives families more control over their children’s education. Matt Beienburg, Director of Education Policy at the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, said, “This legislation is the most robust expansion of educational freedom in the nation. It guarantees every Arizona student, whether they are coming from public school, private school, or homeschooling, the opportunity to join the ESA program and receive their share of state funding to pursue any educational opportunity that best meets their needs.” 

The Goldwater Institute, which describes itself as a free-market public policy research and litigation organization, helped develop the original ESA program in 2011. 

Rep. Ben Toma (R), who sponsored HB 2853, said: “Parents are the ultimate accountability, not government. They know what’s best for their children, and we should trust them to do the right thing.”

Critics of HB 2853 have said expanding the program will take money from public education and fund private schools that are not subject to public oversight. Save Our Schools Arizona, an organization that opposes school vouchers and advocates for allocating more money to public education, said: “We cannot continue to add money to our public education funding bucket only to drill holes in the bottom. Siphoning hundreds of millions more dollars from public schools to unaccountable private schools is fiscally reckless and an insult to the communities these lawmakers represent.” 

Laurie Roberts, a columnist for azcentral, criticized Republican legislators for proposing to expand the ESA program when, in 2018, Arizona voters defeated a referendum of a bill that would have expanded the program, thus repealing the law. Arizona Proposition 305 was a veto referendum on Senate Bill 1431, which made all public school students eligible for the ESA program. 

Gov. Ducey signed SB 1431 into law on April 6, 2017. Save Our Schools Arizona led the signature drive to put the measure on the ballot. On Nov. 6, 2018, Arizona voters rejected the measure 64.83% to 35.17%.

Beth Lewis, a representative for Save our Schools, said the group was considering different options for responding to the ESA expansion, including another referendum or a lawsuit. 

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! 

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, 2.29 candidates are running for each seat in the 1002 school board races we are covering in districts where the filing deadline has passed. The 2.29 candidates per seat is 16.5% more than in 2020.