A report from COSSBA’s inaugural conference

Welcome to the Tuesday, April 11, Brew. 

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. COSSBA holds inaugural conference in Tampa
  2. New Hampshire State Senate passes amendment to keep first-in-the-nation presidential primary
  3. Twenty-seven candidates filed for congressional and state offices last week

COSSBA holds inaugural conference in Tampa   

Today, we’re doing something a little different. Staff writer Samuel Wonacott, who contributes to The Daily Brew and also writes Hall Pass, our weekly education-related newsletter, recently traveled to Tampa, Fla., to report on the Consortium of State School Boards Association’s (COSSBA) inaugural conference. We had fellow Brew writer Juan Garcia de Parades sit down with Samuel to get his observations from Tampa. What follows is an abbreviated version of their conversation.

Juan Garcia de Parades: How was Tampa? 

Samuel Wonacott: Tampa was a lot warmer than Tulsa, Okla., where I live, and there were more palm trees (Tulsa does not have palm trees)! I’ve always enjoyed a good palm tree. 

Juan: Glad you got some sun! Let’s talk about the conference. Set the stage for our readers. What is the Consortium of State School Boards Associations? It’s a relatively new organization, right?

Samuel: That’s right. A group of state school boards associations came together and founded COSSBA in 2021. Before that, the primary national organization representing state school boards associations was the National School Boards Association (NSBA), which was founded in 1940. NSBA says that it works “with and through our State Associations, NSBA Advocates for Equity and Excellence in Public Education through School Board Leadership.” COSSBA describes itself as a “non-partisan, national alliance dedicated to sharing resources and information to support, promote and strengthen state school boards associations as they serve their local school districts and board members.”

COSSBA is made up of many former members of the NSBA. Interestingly, the NSBA also held its annual conference in Orlando last week. 

Juan: Can you explain what a state school boards association does?

Samuel: They are nonprofit organizations made up of school board members from around the state. Governance rules vary by state but all associations essentially serve the same purpose—providing training and resources to school board members and superintendents and representation in state government. That is, they lobby on behalf of school board members. 

Juan: Okay, so a bunch of state school boards associations got together in 2021 and formed COSSBA. Why? 

Samuel: In September 2021, NSBA leadership wrote a letter to President Joe Biden (D) referencing threats and disruptions at school board meetings, and said some of those actions could be considered the equivalent of domestic terrorism. The NSBA requested federal law enforcement to train and assist school board members on handling these disruptions. A month later,  U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum in which he directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. attorneys to meet within 30 days with leaders in every federal judicial district to discuss ways to address threats against school board members and educators. 

Critics of the NSBA letter said it and Garland’s memorandum unfairly compared parental concerns over masking policies and other COVID-19 responses to domestic terrorism. A group of 17 state attorneys general—all Republicans—sent a letter to Biden and Garland on Oct. 18 asking for them to withdraw the memo because of the chilling effect it could have on parents’ speech rights. 

Although the NSBA board apologized for how the letter was worded, between October 2021 and June 2022, 25 state school board associations decided to terminate or not renew membership in the NSBA. Many of those states later formed COSSBA. 

Juan: You spoke with many school board members at the conference. What sort of education topics were they talking about? Were there any big themes you picked up on?

Samuel: I asked board members about the biggest issues in their districts, and I heard some common themes. One was that districts were struggling with the aftermath of the pandemic. From issues like teacher morale to student discipline, many seemed to believe the pandemic was kind of the root of many current district hurdles. Relatedly, board members also talked about the struggle of rebuilding the community’s trust in the board in the pandemic’s aftermath. Funding was another theme, another issue that came up quite a bit. That included concerns about funding disparities within districts, where individual schools—some just miles apart—end up receiving different amounts of money, which lead to divergences in per-pupil spending, school facility quality, and so forth. 

Juan: What about conference-wide themes? What topics and issues defined the conference?

Samuel: Even though you can make a case that politics played a pretty big role in the events that led to COSSBA’s formation, the conference itself was pretty decidedly apolitical. The learning sessions, which were mostly led by school board members, covered school safety, school board governance, how to select superintendents, talking to the media, and so on. Neither the attendees nor the conference programming had much to say on hot-button political or culture topics. One session, probably the one that touched most overtly on politics, was titled “Staying in the Center Lane—Leading in Turbulent Times.” It was presented as a case study about how the politically diverse Dublin City Schools board, in Dublin, Ohio, operates in good faith even in the midst of real disagreement. So, even there, the focus wasn’t on political issues per se but, rather, on how a board can manage political differences and conflicting values.

Juan: Was there much talk about state-level education policies? 

Samuel: Not so much, as the board members and conference organizers were really focused on policies school boards have direct—or, through the superintendent—indirect control over. There was one session I attended on how the Idaho School Boards Association has welcomed charter schools into its ranks that occasioned some strong, differing opinions on the topic of charter schools in the Q&A period. But with the exception of that session, I didn’t hear much talk about, say, charter schools, vouchers, or Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)—three big education policy topics in the news this year. 

Juan: Who was at the conference? What states were represented?

Samuel: This was COSSBA’s inaugural conference—and a lot of people were there! According to registration data there were more than 1,700 registered attendees and vendors. School board members from all 23 states associated with COSSBA registered for the conference. You had school board members from small, rural schools with only a few thousand students, to some of the largest districts in the country—like Miami-Dade Public Schools, in Florida. 

Juan: Did attendees have much to say about the COSSBA/NSBA split? 

Samuel: No, not really. I would say most people I talked to were optimistic about COSSBA’s future and excited to be part of a new organization at the national level. That said, I talked to many longtime board members who had attended NSBA conferences in the past, and many of them were taking a wait-and-see approach to COSSBA.   

Juan: Thanks for that information on the conference. As the author of Hall Pass, Ballotpedia’s education-related newsletter, you’re pretty plugged into this year’s school board elections. Which COSSBA states are holding elections this year?

Samuel: Fifteen of the 23 states whose state associations are affiliated with COSSBA are holding school board elections this year. That includes four states whose elections we’re covering comprehensively—Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Eight of the states holding elections this year are NSBA members. One state holding elections—Iowa—holds dual membership in COSSBA and NSBA, while three states—Nebraska, Texas, and Wisconsin—are unaffiliated with either organization. 

Juan: Thanks, Samuel. 

Samuel: Thanks, Juan! 

Click the link below to subscribe to Hall Pass for weekly updates on school board politics and elections.

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New Hampshire Senate passes amendment to keep first-in-the-nation presidential primary  

The New Hampshire Senate voted 23-0 to approve a constitutional amendment to keep the state’s primary the first in the presidential election.

The amendment would add the following language to the New Hampshire Constitution: The secretary of state shall ensure that the presidential primary election be held seven or more days immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election.

If at least 60% of House members approve the amendment, it will go to New Hampshire voters on Nov. 5, 2024.

The New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucus have long been the first contests in the Democratic presidential primary. After the 1968 Democratic presidential primary, Democratic party leaders made changes to the presidential nomination process to spread out the schedule of primaries in each state. After 1968, the New Hampshire General Court passed a statute requiring the New Hampshire primary would be held before any “similar contest.” 

A similar contest would be a primary. Iowa, however, holds a caucus. Iowa held the first Democratic caucus in 1972, and also changed its law saying that the Iowa caucuses need to be held at least eight days before any other nominating contest.

State Sen. Daryl Abbas (R), who voted to approve the amendment, said, “The first-in-the-nation primary is celebrated in this state, but it’s also become very popular – because we made it popular. We’ve done it the right way and led by example on how our elections are performed, and we should continue to do that.”

Movement on this amendment comes after a decision made by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to reorder the states of its 2024 presidential primary. On Feb. 4, the DNC decided that South Carolina will be the first to hold a primary election on Feb. 3, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 6. The previous order of the Democratic presidential primary ordered the Iowa caucus first, followed by the New Hampshire primary, Nevada, then South Carolina.

Jaime Harrison, the chairman of the DNC, supports the change in the primary schedule, saying: “This calendar does what is long overdue. It puts Black voters at the front of the process in South Carolina. It keeps Nevada, where Latinos have been building power … and it adds Michigan, the heartland, where unions built the middle class of this nation. And Georgia, the forefront of the new South.”

Ray Buckley, the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, opposed the change, saying: “[The DNC] did not give New Hampshire the first-in-the-nation primary. It is not theirs to take away. We will be holding our primary first.”

As a reminder, you can follow our coverage of the presidential race here, where you’ll find constantly updated information on candidates, debates, the primary schedule, and more.  

Click the link below to learn more about New Hampshire’s presidential primary amendment.
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Twenty-seven candidates filed for congressional and state offices last week

We cover elections for tens of thousands of offices across the country, and part of that work includes keeping tabs on the candidates who file to run for those offices. We’ll periodically bring you updates on how many candidates are signing up to run for state and federal offices. We process both official and declared candidates.

Last week, 27 candidates filed to run for congressional and state offices—including for elections in 2023, 2024, 2024, and 2026. Two weeks ago, we tracked 19 candidates who declared for congressional and state offices. 

This year, we’ve tracked 469 candidates who’ve filed to run for congressional and state offices this year and in future election cycles. At this time in 2021, we had processed 468 candidates for elections in 2021, 2022, and 2023. 

Here’s a breakdown of the candidates who declared last week:

  • Of the partisan nature of the declared candidates….
    • 12 are Democrats
    • 13 are Republicans. 
    • Two third-party candidates.
  • Of the offices tracked…
    • 10 filed for Congress
    • 15 filed for state legislatures
    • One filed for governor
    • One filed for a different state executive office

Click below to read about our definition of candidacy. 

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