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 religious charter schools
- In your district: reader replies on district reading programs
- Share candidate endorsements with us!
- School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
- Judge rules Pennsylvania district must permit After School Satan Club to use school facilities
- Extracurricular: education news from around the web
- Candidate Connection survey
Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!
On the issues: The debate over religious charter schools
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 Oklahoma Catholic Conference (OCC) applied in February 2023 for permission to start a religious online charter school. The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board rejected the application on April 11, saying it did not meet the state’s standards for approval and giving the OCC 30 days to fix the identified problems.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board writes that religious charter schools, since they would receive public funding, would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Board says taxpayers should not have to fund religious charters and that the policy would violate the principle of church-state separation.
Andy Smarick writes that Supreme Court precedent since 2017, in its ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, supports the idea that states cannot exclude certain schools from participating in government programs solely based on their religious nature. Smarick says religious charters would be beneficial for creating more options in the public school system.
Editorial: Taxpayers have no business funding religious instruction in public schools | The Editorial Board, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“But this isn’t just any ol’ charter school application. It proposes to cross the long-respected dividing line between church and state outlined in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Religious conservatives insist the clause has been misinterpreted and that the Founding Fathers always intended America to be a Christian nation. … Regardless of the outcome in Oklahoma, it almost certainly won’t be the final attempt to impose Christian doctrine on public schools while demanding that taxpayers fund it. Other nations have tried state sponsorship of religion, and it doesn’t tend to go well. Once religion becomes interwoven in government, it becomes almost impossible to unweave it. And since the Constitution requires equal treatment, state funding would also have to extend to other religions, meaning taxpayers could be on the hook to pay for public schools teaching, say, Islamist doctrine. Oklahoma’s current charter regulations require schools to be nonsectarian in all instruction, admissions policies and operations — as it should be. Feeding souls are what churches, synagogues and mosques are all about. Public schools are for feeding brains, free of faith indoctrination. And they must stay that way.”
The extended case for faith-based charter schools | Andy Smarick, The Thomas Fordham Institute
“Addressing those charging that the Court was forcing states to fund religious groups, Chief Justice Roberts’s Espinoza decision explained that Montana didn’t have to create a program that funded nongovernmental organizations. But once the state did so, it couldn’t single out faith-based groups for exclusion. The same logic applies in Trinity Lutheran and Carson: States don’t have to create programs for nonprofits to resurface playgrounds or for students to attend out-of-district high schools, but once they do, they can’t single out faith-based groups for exclusion. We should expect a Roberts opinion ruling that states aren’t obligated to allow charter schools, but once they do, they can’t single out faith-based groups for exclusion. … The left’s strategy could be to simply vote “no” as this wave swells. An alternative is to support more school options and increased parental power inside a public system of transparency and accountability. That would mean sitting down at—not walking away from—the negotiating table on the issue of faith-based charters. When the Supreme Court eventually rules that states with charter school laws must permit faith-based charters, the left will be glad that they had a hand in crafting those programs instead of standing on the sidelines.”
In your district: reader replies on district reading programs
We recently asked readers the following question about the reading program in place in their local districts:
Do you think your district is using the best possible reading program?
Thank you to all who responded. Today, we’re sharing a handful of those responses. We’ll return next month with another reader question. If you have ideas for a question you’d like to see us ask, reply to this email to let us know!
A community member in Virginia wrote:
Our reading program is touted as being aligned with “Science of Reading”, but the scores of our black and brown students and those who are economically disadvantaged prove it’s not working.
A school board candidate in Oregon wrote:
Absolutely not! Our district, the Beaverton School District in Oregon, is still using Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study. This program has been thoroughly discredited/debunked dating back to at least 2020. Other neighboring districts, like Portland Public Schools, have removed/replaced this curriculum already given the poor outcomes it produces. However, the Beaverton School District has told the community that they will continue to use it through the 2023-24 school year. They are looking to augment it with some smaller phonics-based programs, but it is ridiculous they are still using such a terrible program and have been for years now.
Keep in mind this is not a small district that lacks resources. BSD is the 3rd largest district in Oregon and has many administrators and TOSAs (Teacher on Special Assignment) who focus on curriculum adoption, support, training, etc.
A community member from Pennsylvania wrote:
Only if the district is using multiple tools of teaching, such as phonics, meanings in context, common word recognition, reading for pleasure, etc.
A school board member from Wisconsin wrote:
Test scores have been declining over the last decade. The administrator says we are using a phonics based approach to reading so why the decline is a mystery to me. I’m wondering if the hand off each year as children progress is consistent or if we are losing something in the transfer each year.
A teacher from Illinois wrote:
Absolutely NOT! With all the Science of Reading buzzing around, our new program is the total opposite of that!
A school board member from Michigan wrote:
No – I really wish they would explore other options such as EBLI – Evidence Based Literacy Instruction. The state needs to be putting resources directly into heavily staffing reading interventionists in elementary schools. Our elementary school children are either barely proficient or below standards.
Share candidate endorsements with us!
As part of our goal to solve the ballot information problem, Ballotpedia is gathering information about school board candidate endorsements. The ballot information gap widens the further down the ballot you go, and is worst for the more than 500,000 local offices nationwide, such as school boards or special districts. Endorsements can help voters know more about their candidates and what they stand for.
Do you know of an individual or group that has endorsed a candidate in your district?
Click here to let us know.
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. This year, Ballotpedia is covering elections for approximately 8,750 seats in 3,211 school districts across 28 states—or about 36% of all school boards elections this year. Click here to read more about our 2023 school board coverage.
Election results from the past week
On May 6, we covered general elections in 58 Texas school districts, including in Dallas Independent School District, the state’s second largest district by enrollment. The largest district, Houston Independent School District, will hold general elections on Nov. 7, along with some others.
Three seats were up for election in the Dallas Independent School District. Around 154,000 students are enrolled in the Dallas Independent School District. The board consists of nine members elected to three-year terms.
The race for District 2 will conclude in a June 10 runoff election between Jimmy Tran and Sarah Weinberg, who advanced from the May 6 general election because neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote. Tran received 39.6%, while Weinberg received 37.1%. Kevin Malonson received 23.3%.
Current District 2 incumbent Dustin Marshall endorsed Weinberg.
According to The Dallas Morning News’s Valaria Olivares, Weinberg raised around $312,000 and Trans raised around $124,000.
The race for District 8 was canceled because incumbent Joe Carreon was the only candidate to file.
See more election results in Texas here.
Upcoming school board elections
As part of our expanded coverage in 10 states, we’re covering all school board primary races in Pennsylvania on May 16. All districts in Pennsylvania are holding elections this year, with approximately half of the state’s 4,491 seats on the ballot. Pennsylvania holds school board elections every two years in odd-numbered years.
Districts in Oregon are holding general elections on May 16. We’re covering elections in the following:
- Beaverton School District
- Centennial School District 28J
- David Douglas School District
- Parkrose School District 3
- Portland Public Schools
- Reynolds School District 7
- Salem-Keizer Public Schools
- Scappoose School District 1J
Judge rules Pennsylvania district must permit After School Satan Club to use school facilities
On May 1, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge John Gallagher ruled the Saucon Valley School District, in Pennsylvania, must allow the After School Satan Club to use school facilities for meetings while the case is argued in court.
We looked at the debate over this case in the April 19 edition of this newsletter. In February, the school district initially approved but then later denied the After School Satan Club’s request to use school facilities for meetings. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representing the Satanic Temple, sued the district on March 30. The Satanic Temple alleged the district violated the First Amendment in refusing to approve the club’s application while permitting other religious clubs to operate in schools.
Saucon Valley School District is located in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, outside of Allentown. The district has approximately 2,100 students.
The Satanic Temple describes itself as “a religious organization dedicated to the practice and promotion of individual rights. We do not subscribe to supernaturalism, so in that way we do not believe that Satan is a deity, being, or person.” According to the Satanic Temple, the organization only starts clubs if other religious groups are operating in schools.
The district argued it rescinded its initial decision to approve the club’s application because the Satanic Temple violated its advertising policies when it put up social media posts that insinuated the district had sponsored the club: “TST’s [The Satanic Temple] actions misled community members and people across the country to think that the Club was being sponsored by the District, not just letting the Club meet in its building.” The district received calls from parents and community members, including an anonymous bomb threat on Feb. 21 that caused the district to close schools for a day.
On Feb. 24, the district announced the After School Satan Club would not be allowed to use school facilities.
Gallagher ruled the district did not provide sufficient evidence that it rejected The Satanic Temple’s application because the group violated the district’s advertising policy. Gallagher concluded the district most likely rejected the application because of the organization’s viewpoint and the community reaction to the club: “The record does not support the District’s argument that the negative public backlash and criticism was caused by a mistaken belief ASSC [After School Satan Club] was District-sponsored. Rather, as the litany of e-mails from parents and community members to the District’s Superintendent reveal, the negative community backlash and criticism expressed a frustration with the District’s decision to permit ASSC meetings, not with a mistaken belief the District actually sponsored the ASSC.”
Gallagher’s ruling means the club will be able to meet for the remainder of the school year while litigation in the case continues.
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!
- Chicago Public Schools parents take issue with proposed elected school board map | Chicago Tribune
- Party affiliation can be misleading in local Pa. elections. Here’s why. | Spotlight PA
- Texas school board races see increase in PAC spending. Critics say donations are ‘unprecedented’ | Houston Public Media
- How a school board race in the blue state of Illinois became a nationally funded cage match | The Boston Globe
- Debate over holding back third graders roils state legislatures | Louisiana Illuminator
- Supporters, opponents reflect on passage of Arkansas education overhaul | Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
- As Rail Profits Soar, Blocked Crossings Force Kids to Crawl Under Trains to Get to School | ProPublica
Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district
Today, we’re looking at responses from Connie Clemens and Jeff Myers, who are running in May 16 elections for seats on the Beaverton School District school board in Oregon. Clemens is running in the general election for Zone 3 against Maham Ahmed and Melissa Potter, while Myers is running in the general election for Zone 6 against Justice Rajee. Neither Ahmed, Potter, nor Rajee completed the survey.
Here’s how Clemens answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?”
- “I am very concerned about the reduction in curriculum over the years. We need to take a hard look at what’s been deleted and what’s been added and why.
- I also am concerned about the abysmal scores of our juniors on Oregon’s state tests. We need to put academics first in policy and do everything possible to ensure students are getting a truly exceptional education.
- Communication between the district and school board with parents and the community must be improved. One way to achieve that is to get volunteers back into the buildings. BSD has an abundance of talented and experienced people who can partner with the schools in the education process.”
Click here to read the rest of Clemens’ responses.
Here’s how Myers answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?”
- “Priority #1: Academics. We need to leverage proven methods and materials for our children to be and feel successful in achieving their goals. It’s time to raise the bar!
- Priority #2: Safety. Students and staff need to feel safe and able to focus to be successful. After years of struggling with a failed approach to discipline, we need to go back to basics.
- Priority #3: School Environment. We need to take meaningful action on the top issues impacting school staff: large class sizes, ever-increasing workloads, conflicting priorities, and responsibility without authority.
Click here to read the rest of Myers’ responses.
If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.