Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter written to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.
In observance of the 4th of July, we’ll be taking next week off from writing this newsletter. We’ll return to your inboxes on July 12. Happy Independence Day!
In today’s edition, you’ll find:
- On the issues: The debate over religious charter schools
- Share candidate endorsements with us!
- In your district: Pandemic learning gaps
- School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
- School board elections continue to attract attention from national political organizations
- School board recalls remain higher than pre-pandemic average
- Extracurricular: education news from around the web
- Candidate Connection survey
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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.
We reported two weeks ago that the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 5-3 to approve an application for the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School—the nation’s first religious charter school. This week, we’re going to look at some of the arguments for and against the decision.
David French writes that religious charter schools violate the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. French says Oklahoma’s arrangement both unconstitutionally favors religious institutions and also subjects the same institutions to state control, violating the barrier between church and state.
Jeff Jacoby writes that since charter schools are not publicly operated—only publicly funded—they do not unconstitutionally establish a religion using the state’s authority. Jacoby says state-subsidized religious schools are not substantially different from other types of religious organizations like food pantries and homeless shelters that also receive government funding.
Oklahoma Breaches the Wall Between Church and State | David French, New York Times
“We don’t yet know if the Supreme Court will act, but the very idea that a religious institution should be either clothed with state authority or subject to state control — let alone both — is antithetical to the constitutional balance struck by the First Amendment’s establishment clause and free exercise clause. At their philosophical core, the two clauses work together to pre-empt the kinds of religious conflicts that have ripped apart so many nations and cultures. The establishment clause declares that no church can control the state (nor can the state control the church), thus lowering the stakes of political conflict so that politicians have minimal influence over religious doctrine. … Both religious liberty and religious disestablishment are vital elements of American pluralism. Oklahoma shouldn’t discriminate against religious expression, but it must not create state religious schools. Clothing any church institution with state power is bad for the church and bad for the state. Oklahoma conservatives can and should advance their values through the exercise of liberty, not by breaching the barrier between church and state.”
Oklahoma says yes to a religious charter school. So does the First Amendment. | Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe
“Clearly, a standard public school — one operated by government employees under the supervision of a political school board — cannot be a religious enterprise. But charter schools, though publicly funded, are not publicly operated. They are organized and run by private groups and individuals; their whole raison d’être is to offer education unavailable in government schools. States provide money and enforce basic legal standards, but otherwise charter schools are autonomous. That’s a key reason for their popularity. … The only real distinction between charter schools and school vouchers is that charters are new schools created by private educators, whereas vouchers subsidize tuition at existing private schools. But if public dollars can underwrite a religious education via vouchers, they ought to be able to do so via charter schools. In both cases, the state’s goal is to promote educational diversity and parental empowerment, not to promote religion. Many critical public services — from health care and homeless shelters to foster care and food pantries — are supplied by faith-based groups that receive government subsidies.”
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.
In your district: Learning loss since the pandemic
School districts face diverse issues and challenges. We want to hear what’s happening in your school district. Please complete the very brief survey below—anonymously, if you prefer—and we may share your response with fellow subscribers in an upcoming newsletter.
On June 21, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released new data on 13-year-old students in public schools showing declines in reading and math test scores compared to tests administered in 2020.
What is the single most important thing your district should do to address learning loss?
Click here to respond!
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 board elections this year. Click here to read more about our 2023 school board coverage.
Upcoming school board elections
Washington is holding school board primary elections on Aug. 1. We’re covering elections in the following districts:
School board elections continue to attract attention from national political organizations
On June 23, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), an organization that says it raises “grassroots donations for progressive candidates and committees,” launched a campaign to support school board candidates in upcoming elections. PCCC said the goal of the “Save Our School Boards” campaign is “to support over 200 progressive first-time school board candidates on gathering petition signatures, creating campaign plans, budgeting, building a grassroots army, fundraising, and meetings with campaign experts.”
PCCC, which was founded in 2009 and has endorsed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), is the latest national organization to pledge to support and back school board candidates, the majority of which are officially nonpartisan.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, local school board elections have seen historically unprecedented involvement from national political organizations and statewide officeholders—and candidates for statewide offices—on the left and the right.
Meanwhile, Moms for Liberty’s Joyful Warriors National Summit takes place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 29-July 2. The summit features 2024 Republican presidential candidates, including former President Donald Trump (R), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), and others. Moms for Liberty, founded in Florida in 2021, endorses school board candidates and says it is “dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government.” According to the organization’s website, Moms for Liberty has 285 chapters in 44 states.
Other state and local organizations that have supported candidates running on parental rights platforms include Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education, the 1776 Project, and Patriot Mobile Action. In addition to PCCC, organizations that have backed progressive candidates or candidates supporting diversity programs or opposing the removal of books dealing with race and gender include Red, Wine and Blue, Democracy and Education, and Defense of Democracy.
Statewide officeholders, including governors, have also started weighing in on school board elections. DeSantis, who was Moms for Liberty’s keynote speaker at its 2022 summit, endorsed 34 candidates in Florida in 2022 and recently released a list of school board elections to win in 2024. In 2023, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) endorsed school board candidates. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) donated $500,000 to the Democratic Party of Illinois in February to combat what Pritzker called “extreme right-wing candidates” in school and library board elections.
You can see our 2023 list of endorsements by statewide officeholders and candidates here.
Although national organizations and statewide officeholders have not historically waded into school board elections, local groups, like Republican and Democratic county parties and teachers unions, have periodically done so. Boston College political science professor Michael Hartney found that teachers unions issued 4,436 endorsements of school board candidates in California and Florida between 1995 and 2020.
As endorsements have become more sought after in school board elections, Ballotpedia has embarked on a project to capture, track, and analyze endorsements, especially in the 10 states where we are providing comprehensive school board election coverage in 2023. Because most school board elections are nonpartisan, endorsements can provide voters with helpful information regarding candidates’ stances and policy positions.
We track endorsements through reader submissions, Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection Survey, and direct outreach and research. For every recorded endorsement, we prepare a brief summary of the endorser, including any mission statements, the party the individual or organization is affiliated with, and any statements regarding a particular policy. You can learn more about our methodology for finding and analyzing endorsements here.
In Wisconsin, which held elections on April 4, we were able to identify ideological leanings for every candidate who received endorsements based on the endorser’s positions and policies. In those elections, candidates with a liberal lean won 12%, candidates with a conservative lean won 9%, and candidates who received no endorsements won 79%.
You can follow our work tracking endorsements in 2023 school board elections here. If you know of an individual or group that has endorsed a candidate in your district, you can let us know at this link.
School board recalls remain higher than pre-pandemic average
Last week, in anticipation of the release of our mid-year recall report, we took a deep dive into school board recalls—including the rules governing recall efforts and recent historical trends. Now that we’ve released our report, let’s take a quick look at those recall efforts in the first part of 2023.
This year, we’ve tracked 149 recall efforts—and 30 have targeted school board members. That’s higher than the average of 27 school board recall efforts we tracked between 2009 and 2020. In 2021, we tracked 92 school board recall efforts. That fell to 53 in 2022. Those two years account for the highest and second-highest number of recalls that we’ve tracked.
The pandemic contributed to the spike in recall efforts against school board officials. In 2020, 10 of the 29 school board recall efforts included reasons related to the pandemic, which accounted for 34% of all school board recalls. In 2021, 54 of the 92 (59%) school board recall efforts were related to COVID, and in 2022, 22 of the 53 (42%) school board recall efforts were COVID-related.
In 2023, the number of COVID-related school board recalls decreased to one—or 3% of the total.
Of the 30 school board recall efforts we’ve tracked in 2023, eight efforts listed conduct unbecoming of a public officer as a reason for recall, while four listed decisions to fire a superintendent or not fill a superintendent position in a timely manner. Another three efforts listed support for gender identity or transgender policies, and two listed financial trouble or mismanagement. The reasons listed on the 13 other efforts in 2023 varied from curriculum decisions and mascot changes to pleading guilty to misdemeanors and poor academic performance.
Click here to read our 2023 mid-year recall report in its entirety.
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!
- Supreme Court won’t hear charter school dress code case that promised broader fallout | Politico
- Teachers in 6 States Will Get Raises. More Could Join Them | Education Week
- School board OKs first step toward classical education model in elementary schools | Miami Herald
- How politics changed education in the Milwaukee suburbs: ‘Now school is about the politics and the fear’ | Boston Globe
- New Jersey A.G. sues 3 school districts to block schools from ‘outing’ transgender students to parents | Philadelphia Inquirer
- Suddenly, School Choice: Its Rapid Post-Pandemic Expansion Sets Up a Big Pass/Fail Test for Education | RealClearInvestigations
- Tennessee launches $194M in K-12 school safety grants | The Center Square
- NAEP Scores ‘Flashing Red’ After a Lost Generation of Learning for 13-Year-Olds | The 74
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.