Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #47

Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter written to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues:  The debate over Florida’s decision to ban an AP African American studies course
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • 240 school districts have boards with more than 10 members—Chicago Public Schools will soon be one of them 
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

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On the issues: What different sides are saying about Florida’s decision on AP African American studies course

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.

On Jan. 12, the Florida Department of Education rejected an AP African American studies course from being taught in its current form in K-12 schools. You can read our coverage of that story here

Rich Lowry writes that schools should teach about the Middle Passage, slavery, abolition, segregation, and discrimination against Black people but says the AP course is ideologically one-sided. Lowry cites a section of the course that covers Black queer studies and “shifts sexuality studies towards racial analysis,” according to the curriculum. He says students should not be exposed to what he says is explicitly ideological material in grades K-12. 

Renée Graham writes that Florida’s rejection of the AP African American studies course is motivated by racism. Graham says the decision promotes white supremacy by deemphasizing the importance of Black experiences, oppression, and accomplishments in the teaching of American history. She says the decision amounts to a “Don’t Say Black” rule, referring to the “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act” that Florida passed in 2022 and which some called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

DeSantis is right to reject the woke AP African-American studies curriculum | Rich Lowry, New York Post

“No reasonable person opposes teaching American history fully and truthfully. (In Florida, the controversial Stop WOKE Act itself stipulates that instructors should teach the history of African peoples, the Middle Passage, the experience of slavery, abolition and the effects of segregation and other forms of discrimination.) The problem is when the curriculum is used as an ideological weapon to inculcate a distorted, one-sided worldview, and here, Florida has the College Board dead to rights. The College Board hasn’t released the pilot curriculum publicly, but, as conservative writer Stanley Kurtz and a publication called The Florida Standard have documented, it really goes off the rails when it addresses contemporary issues. The curriculum presents Black Lives Matter and the reparations movement favorably and recommends the writings of a clutch of writers on the left, from Robin D. G. Kelley to Michelle Alexander, without rejoinder. Bias aside, with the state of American historical and civic knowledge in near-collapse, who thinks high-school students need to be brushing up on “Black Queer Studies”? The curriculum explains that this topic “explores the concept of queer color critique, grounded in Black feminism and intersectionality, as a Black studies lens that shifts sexuality studies towards racial analysis.” Surely, if anyone wants to marinate in this dreck, he or she can wait to do it in college, which specializes in wasting students’ time and spreading ridiculous cant and lies.

Ron DeSantis’s fear of American history | Renée Graham, The Boston Globe

“Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s decision to ban an African American studies course from Florida schools carries the stench of white slaveowners who fought to keep those they enslaved from learning to read and write English. … Those protesting loudest against indoctrination are usually the ones actively promoting it through their own divisive agendas. DeSantis refashioned “woke,” a decades-old Black term for staying vigilant and conscious of racial injustice and inequality, into a coded slur for anything or anyone he doesn’t like, including all things connected to the LGBTQ community. … Crucial to sustaining white supremacy is the erasure not only of Black trauma inflicted by systemic and institutional racism but Black accomplishment, triumph, and contributions. Although it shouldn’t be, “patriotism” has become shorthand for edifying whiteness as this nation’s one true compass. In rejecting the AP course, a college-level class for high school students, the DeSantis administration claimed it “significantly lacks educational value.” A ban wasn’t enough. He had to denigrate the course’s value because it centers Blackness in this nation’s history. It’s not just that DeSantis and other Republican legislators want to keep Black children from seeing their reflection in history. They also want white students force-fed a diet of supremacist propaganda, not unlike those pushed on earlier generations by textbook authors, the media, and popular culture.”

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 the more than 13,000 districts with elected school boards.

Upcoming school board elections

Ballotpedia is covering all school board primary elections in Oklahoma on Feb. 14. General elections are on April 4. We’ll be back with a preview of Oklahoma’s primaries in next week’s edition.  

Some of the districts holding elections include:

Ballotpedia is also covering a special school board election to fill a vacancy on the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees on Feb. 7. Two candidates are running for the District 6 seat—Daron Lee Calhoun II and Lee Runyon.

On Feb. 21, Ballotpedia will cover school board primaries in Wisconsin. As in Oklahoma, we’ll be covering every district holding primaries in the Badger State. 

Click here to learn more about 2023 school board elections.

240 school districts have a board with more than 10 members—Chicago Public Schools will soon be one of them 

Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, is holding a mayoral election on Feb. 28. Education has been a central issue in the race, with candidates weighing in on a law that will gradually hand control of the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education from the mayor to voters and expand the number of members to 21—making it one of the biggest boards in the country. Chicago Public Schools is the fourth largest district in the country, having recently fallen behind Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida. 

Of the 13,194 school districts in the country, only 240—or about 2%—are governed by school boards with more than 10 members. Those 243 districts are spread across 18 states. 

Most district boards are composed of either five or seven members. Only 495 boards have six members, and only 86 have eight members. 

Unlike most districts, where voters select board members in elections, Chicago’s mayor appoints the seven members of the board. Chicago Public Schools is the only district in Illinois with an appointed school board. 

In 2021, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed House Bill 2908, which expands the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education to 21 members beginning in 2025. Voters will elect 10 members and the mayor will appoint the other 11. In 2026, all members of the board will be elected. 

Incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is seeking a second term, opposed HB 2908, saying it would “create an unwieldy 21-member board” and new layers of bureaucracy. Lightfoot also said she disliked that the bill did not limit campaign spending. Proponents of the bill, including Pritzker and the Chicago Teachers Union, said allowing city residents to have a direct say in selecting board members would increase transparency and accountability. 

The average school board consists of about six members.  

The number of school board members per district varies. West Virginia has the fewest school board members per district (3.45), followed by New Mexico (4.23), and Montana (4.26). Connecticut has the most school board members per district (9.97), followed by Louisiana (9.26), and Pennsylvania (8.69).

South Texas Independent School District (STISD) has the largest public school board in the country, with 24 members. STISD is composed solely of magnet schools. Around 4,100 students attend STISD. The largest board overseeing a traditional public school is the Maine School Administrative District 54 district, with a 23-member board. Around 2,370 students attend schools in that district. 

Districts with 10 or more board members enroll an average of 10,215 students. Chicago Public Schools enrolls more than 322,000 students.

In 2022, Ballotpedia researched the country’s more than 82,000 school board members. We covered that project in a previous edition of this newsletter. Click here to read about this project and see more of our research. 

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

We’re featuring survey responses from school board candidates who won their races on Nov. 8. 

Today, we’re looking at responses from Jackie Ulmer, who won in the general election for Cave Creek Unified School District Governing Board in Arizona, and Jose Magaña, who won in the general election for San Jose Unified Board of Education Trustee Area 2 in California.

Here’s how Ulmer answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”

“From a school board perspective:

Academic Excellence

Transparent curriculum and a return to what schools are there to teach, and moving away from overreach in certain areas.

School and student Safety

Compensating teachers fairly

Stop surveying our children with inappropriate, and intrusive questions that have nothing to do with the student’s education or the school’s role.”

Click here to read the rest of Ulmer’s answers.

Here’s how Magaña answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”

“I have spent over a decade serving in education. Whether it was my time as a teacher, coach, non-profit leader, or education policy/finance expert, I am fully dedicated to education policy. As Trustee, I have done the work and will continue to do the work on the following policy areas in education:

Student Academic Improvement, High-Impact Tutoring, Student Safety & Mental Health, Arts, STEM, & After School Programming, Employee Retention, More Resources from the Community, Transparent Communication.

I am the only candidate who has the experience, expertise and tangible wins that can move our district forward after the difficulty of the pandemic. My public service has been dedicated to equity, our children, and our most vulnerable. My opponent’s experience has been yelling at board meetings or not attending any at all. His extremist positions would demonize certain populations of students, families, and staff. Our schools need proven, mature, and collaborative leadership, not extremist politics.

My daughters, neighbors and community deserve the best leader to help move the district forward. We need experience not extremism.” 

Click here to read the rest of Magaña’s answers.