Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #61

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 the Biden administration’s transgender school sports rule 
  • Share candidate endorsements with us! 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • As Texas’ legislative session ends, here’s where things stand with a bill that would implement a statewide education savings program   
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Take our Candidate Connection survey! 

Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!

On the issues: The debate over the Biden administration’s transgender school sports rule 

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 April 6, the U.S. Department of Education released a proposed update to Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 regulating when schools may or may not ban transgender athletes from participating on sports teams that do not align with their sex. Title IX says: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The Education Department’s proposed rule would prohibit schools from imposing outright bans on transgender students wanting to compete in sports consistent with their gender identity but allow for some exceptions to achieve educational objectives or minimize harm to students.

Rich Lowry writes that the proposed rule is too vague and broadly redefines Title IX. Lowry says Title IX was enacted to promote women’s sports and that the proposed rule will promote competition between biological men identifying as women and biological females. He says regulators should not be able to change the intent of laws and argues Congress should have to draft new legislation to implement the Biden administration’s proposed changes. 

Doriane Coleman writes that Biden’s proposed rule properly balances the interests of both women and transgender people who identify as women. Coleman says the rule is specific enough to provide sufficient guidance for governments and school leaders on both sides of the issue, protect transgender individuals from discrimination, and protect girls and women from physical harm.

Biden trans-sports rule reverses the intent of the law it ‘enforces’ | Rich Lowry, New York Post

“If justice demands that Title IX encompass gender identity, then the solution is very simple — Congress should amend the statute. Why bother with such Schoolhouse Rock notions, though, when Title IX can be rendered infinitely malleable? First, the Biden administration last year redefined the law, without any warrant, so that ‘sex’ includes ‘stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity.’ And now there’s going to be an entire new regulatory regime devoted to ensuring the participation of trans athletes in sports meets the Biden administration’s standards. Congress passes a law protecting and encouraging women’s sports, and lo and behold, 50 years later the law is being used to ensure as many males as possible are competing against females. Here the road to hell isn’t even paved with good intentions, but bad-faith interpretations of the law imposed by people who know they can’t win democratic assent for their cultural agenda. … The draft rule is an affront to Congress, an affront to federalism (it clearly targets the roughly 20 states that have bans on males competing against females) and an affront to girls and women who simply want to compete against one another when they play sports.”

Why Biden’s New School-Sports Rule Matters | Doriane Coleman, The Atlantic

“The loudest voices in the debate often seek either to ban transgender women and girls from participating on female teams altogether or, on the other side, to make sports blind to sex differences. This is a complicated issue, one that requires compassion for all the athletes involved, as well as precision, not broad strokes. The administration’s proposal is a welcome response to the partisan rancor and a sophisticated approach that mostly meets the challenge at hand. … If you understand that both sex and gender matter; if you care about the integrity of girls’ and women’s sports; and if you want schools to take care of all kids, including trans kids, this is a good proposal. … The administration’s rule doesn’t just address the practical question of how to accommodate transgender athletes; it also addresses a political question—how to negotiate the space between those on the left who deny the existence of sex or the relevance of sex differences to law and policy, and those on the right who deny the existence of transgender people and insist that their advocates are selling a dangerous ideology. President Joe Biden clearly cares about trans rights. He also cares about women’s rights.”

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. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on the more than 13,000 districts with elected school boards.

Election results from the past week


Pennsylvania school districts held primaries on May 16. All districts in Pennsylvania held elections, 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. Pennsylvania is one of four states that allow for partisan school board elections. Pennsylvania candidates can choose to run under a specific party’s label.

We’ll share results from these elections when we have them. 

South Dakota

We’re covering all school board elections in South Dakota this year. In South Dakota, school boards choose the timing of their elections within a certain range. This year, all 149 districts are holding elections. Approximately 33% of the state’s 853 seats are up for election this year. 

One notable race took place in Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city. 

Dawn Marie Johnson and Brian Mattson ran for an at-large seat on the Sioux Falls School Board on May 16. Johnson defeated Mattson 70.6% to 29%. Nick Zachariasen’s name appeared on the ballot, but he ended his campaign in April and backed Johnson. Zachariasen received 20 votes.

Cynthia Mickelson did not run for re-election. Her term ends June 30.

State Reps. Tyler Tordsen (R) and Kadyn Wittman (D), as well as the South Dakota District 11 Democrats, endorsed Johnson. The Sioux Falls Education Association, the local teachers union, also endorsed Johnson. Click here to see more Johnson endorsees. 

The Minnehaha County, S.D., Republican Party and the Patriot Ripple Effect endorsed Mattson. Click here to see more Mattson endorsees. 

Sioux Falls School District is South Dakota’s largest district with an estimated enrollment of around 25,000 students. The board consists of five members. 


Districts in Oregon held general elections on May 16. We covered elections in the following districts:

As Texas’ legislative session ends, here’s where things stand with a bill that would implement a statewide education savings program  

This year, governors in four states—Iowa, Utah, Arkansas, and Florida—have signed legislation creating universal education savings account (ESA) programs. Additionally, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed a bill establishing a voucher program on May 4. Overall, more than 11 states have some kind of ESA program, though some are limited to low-income students or students with disabilities. In the Feb. 22 edition of this newsletter, we looked at proposed legislation in more than 10 states—including Texas—that would expand or implement ESA programs. 

And in Texas, as the legislative session draws to a close, lawmakers and the governor are wrangling over a bill that would establish an ESA program.

On May 14, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) pledged to veto a bill that would provide some families with ESAs for private school tuition or homeschooling because it didn’t apply to enough students. 

The legislation, Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), passed the state Senate on April 6 in an 18-13 vote and has been before the House Public Education Committee since. The committee heard invited testimony on the bill on May 15.

Also on April 6, the House voted 86-52 to approve an amendment to an unrelated budget bill that prohibits using state funds for private education. Twenty-four Republicans voted with Democrats to approve the amendment. According to The Texas Tribune’s Brian Lopez and Alex Nguyen, House “Democrats and rural Republicans have banded together in the past to oppose voucher-like programs as they fear they could take away money from their local school districts.”

Republicans hold a 19-12 majority in the Senate and an 85-64 majority in the House (with one vacancy). 

The House’s version of the bill makes several changes to the Senate’s ESA eligibility requirements. While the Senate’s bill would give kindergartners and any private-school students who had attended public school access to $8,000 for education expenses, including private school tuition and homeschooling, the House version limits eligibility to low-income students, students with disabilities, and students enrolled in low-performing schools. Additionally, the House bill makes the amount each student receives in the account dependent on income and disability status and eliminates a provision prohibiting schools from providing “instruction, guidance, activities, or programming regarding sexual orientation or gender identity to students enrolled in prekindergarten through 12th grade.”

The original Senate bill also includes a provision for giving rural districts $10,000 for every student that uses ESAs to leave the district. 

On April 6, the Senate also voted 22-9 to pass Senate Bill 9 (SB 9), a $1.6 billion package that includes a $4,000 raise for all teachers—as well as an additional $4,000 for those in rural districts—and funding for teacher childcare and apprenticeship programs. The House Public Education Committee is also considering SB 9. Some legislators opposed the bill, saying $2,000 isn’t enough. 

Abbott said, “This latest version does little to provide meaningful school choice, and legislators deserve to know that it would be vetoed if it reached my desk. Instead, the original House version of the Senate bill provides a more meaningful starting point to begin House-Senate negotiations.” This year’s legislative session in Texas is scheduled to end May 29. Abbott said he would consider calling a special session if the legislature did not send him a bill he likes.

The Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said, “The governor and the legislative majority are shortchanging educators and their students with an inadequate budget and trying to pass a voucher bill that would further endanger our public education system and threaten the futures of the millions of Texas school children who will remain in public schools.”

The House Public Education Committee has until Saturday to vote on SB 8 and SB 9 for the full House to consider the bills before the end of the session. 

Meanwhile, legislators in Oklahoma announced on May 15 they had agreed on a school funding package including teacher pay raises and a universal refundable tax-credit plan for private school tuition and homeschooling expenses. Households earning less than $75,000 annually would receive $7,500 per student. Households making more than $75,000 would receive less. All homeschooling families would receive $1,000 per student. 

The state House and Senate had been at a standstill the last few months as lawmakers tried to find common ground on school funding, teacher pay, and the tax-credit plan. The House passed House Bill 1934 (HB 1934), which establishes the tax-credit program, on May 2 in a 61-31 vote. However, House Speaker Charles McCall (R) used a procedure to indefinitely prevent the bill from going to Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) until lawmakers in both chambers could agree on House Bill 2672 (HB 2672), which includes teacher raises and changes to the school funding formula. 

According to The Oklahoman’s Nura Martinez-Keel, officials in the House and Senate agreed on a $625 million funding package. McCall said he’d send the tax-credit bill to Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) once HB 2672 had been voted on. 

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. 

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey. 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!

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.

In the 2020 election cycle, 4,745 candidates completed the survey.