Who sets public school curricula in each state

Welcome to the Thursday, September 14, 2023, Brew. 

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

  1. Who sets public school curricula in each state
  2. On this date in 1982: Wisconsin voters approved the Wisconsin Nuclear Weapons Reduction Question
  3. Geoff Pallay chats with Rich Cohen, the chief author of The Almanac of American Politics, in the latest episode of On the Ballot

Who sets public school curricula in each state

Debates over what gets taught in public school classrooms have taken on national political significance in recent years. In our Sept. 13 edition of Hall Pass, we looked at two recent examples involving the governors of California and Florida:

  • In July, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said he would fine the Temecula Unified School District after the board voted to reject a social studies curriculum that included references to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the state. A bill that would prohibit school districts from rejecting “instructional materials that accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society” is currently awaiting Newsom’s signature. The governor has publicly backed the bill but has not signed it as of this writing.  
  • In 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation requiring school districts to make all teaching materials, required readings, and library books public, while also allowing parents to file formal objections to material they find unacceptable.

These are two examples of the political conflicts over school curricula taking place around the country. But what do state laws say about who sets public school curricula? 

We examined state-specific information on curriculum authority, requirements, and statutes in all 50 states to answer that question. Here’s what we found:

  • In 45 states, a local entity (such as school districts and local schools) develops curricula.
  • In 3 states – Colorado, North Carolina, and Rhode Island – state-level entities (such as state boards of education and state education agency leaders) develop curricula.
  • In 2 states – South Carolina and Texas – both state-level entities and local entities develop curricula.

When the law gives state-level entities the responsibility to develop curricula, the law can either recommend or require that local schools or districts use the state-developed curriculum in the classroom. 

The map below shows the states that recommend districts to use state-developed curriculum, the states that require districts to use state-developed curriculum, and the states that allow local schools or districts to develop curriculum without state recommendations. Five states—Iowa, Louisiana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Texas—use a combination of state recommendations, state requirements, and local authority. 

Of the five states that use a combination of state recommendations, state requirements, and local authority: 

  • Iowa grants authority to local entities to develop curriculum but requires some state-level core curriculum items to be met.
  • Louisiana grants authority to local entities to develop curriculum but requires the state board of education to approve the local curriculum.
  • Rhode Island develops curriculum at the state level and maintains some requirements and some recommendations for local districts to follow.
  • South Carolina and Texas develop some state board of education curriculum requirements and grant some local discretion to schools and districts for curriculum development.

To learn more, click the link below. And if you want to stay on top of the latest education news, subscribe to Hall Pass! You’ll stay informed about school board politics, education policy, and crucial research from across the political spectrum. 

Keep reading

On this date in 1982: Wisconsin voters approved the Wisconsin Nuclear Weapons Reduction Question

We have tens of thousands of articles about statewide ballot measures that have appeared before voters stretching back to the early 19th century. Pick a random day of the year, and there’s a decent chance that voters in one or more of the 50 states decided at least one ballot measure—and that we have an article about it.  

We have several ways to look through our historical ballot measures repository. You can search for ballot measures by year, state, or topic.

So, what happened today, and where? When we punch September 14 into our ballot measure database, we find that Wisconsin voters approved the Wisconsin Nuclear Weapons Reduction Question on this day in 1982.

The advisory question—which voters approved 641,514 (75.78%) to 205,018 (24.22%)—was a non-binding ballot measure that ordered the state to inform the president and Congress that the people of Wisconsin supported efforts to negotiate a mutual nuclear weapons moratorium and reduction with the Soviet Union and other nations. 

Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to pass a statewide referendum calling for a moratorium on nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It wouldn’t be the last. 

On Nov. 2, 1982, voters in nine other states decided on similar ballot measures, popularly referred to as “nuclear freeze resolutions.” Voters in eight of the nine states approved the resolutions, while voters in Arizona defeated the measure. 

Voters in dozens of local jurisdictions—including Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, and Washington D.C.—also approved resolutions calling for a nuclear freeze in the fall of 1982.

The New York Times John Herbers wrote at the time that the number of nuclear freeze resolutions on the ballot that fall “constituted the largest referendum on a single issue in the nation’s history.” According to Herbers, the state and local jurisdictions that approved nuclear freeze resolutions that November together included about one-fourth of the country’s population. 

The ballot measures voters approved in the fall of 1982 were part of a broader national movement to pass advisory nuclear freeze resolutions at the local, state, and federal levels. 

Randall Forsberg, the late founder of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, said the idea behind the nuclear freeze was “to stop the nuclear arms race quite literally, by stopping the development and production of all nuclear-weapon systems in the two countries.” 

President Ronald Reagan (R) opposed the resolutions, citing concerns that the Soviet Union had a strategic nuclear advantage over the United States at the time. Ahead of the 1982 election, Reagan said he wanted “a freeze where we’re equal, and not freeze them now in a superiority that brings closer the chances of nuclear war.”

The debate over nuclear freeze resolutions also played out in Congress. On Aug. 5, three months before the November election, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on a nuclear freeze resolution sponsored by Wisconsin Democrat Clement J. Zablocki. The House defeated the resolution 204-202, and voted 273-125 for an alternative arms-reduction resolution the Reagan administration had endorsed instead. 

The House eventually passed a nuclear freeze resolution 278-149 the following year, but the Senate defeated that measure 58 to 40. 

Following the resolution’s defeat in Congress and Reagan’s re-election in 1984, the nuclear freeze movement “dwindled and dropped out of sight,” according to State University of New York Professor Lawrence Wittner. Despite this, Wittner said the movement played a role in Reagan’s eventual shift toward a nuclear arms agreement with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev. 

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA.), who was a U.S. House member in 1982 and a co-sponsor of the nuclear freeze resolutions in the House, said the local and statewide ballot measures that year were “the closest our country has ever come to a national plebiscite on nuclear arms control.”

To read more about these and other statewide measures that were on the ballot in 1982, click the link below. For a list of ballot measures regarding war and anti-war-related activities, click here. For a list of measures related to nuclear weapons, nuclear facilities, and nuclear waste, click here.

Keep reading 

Geoff Pallay chats with Rich Cohen, the chief author of The Almanac of American Politics, in the latest episode of On the Ballot 

In this week’s episode of On the Ballot, Ballotpedia’s Editor-in-Chief Geoff Pallay talks with Rich Cohen, the chief author of The Almanac of American Politics. The Almanac—published every two years since 1972—is a comprehensive reference work that includes profiles of all members of Congress, all 50 governors, and other elected officials, as well as analysis on topics such as voter turnout and redistricting, recent presidential and midterm elections, campaign finance data, and more. 

In the episode, Cohen discusses  what the Almanac is and how it began, what the process of creating each edition looks like, and how that process has changed in the four decades since the first edition was published. Cohen also shares some anecdotes from his time covering redistricting as a journalist in the 1970s, and how the process has changed. Plus, Cohen tells us what he’s most excited about for this upcoming edition. 

To listen to our full discussion with Rich Cohen, follow the link below.

Remember, new episodes of On the Ballot drop every Thursday afternoon. If you’re reading this on the morning of Sept. 14, there’s still time to subscribe to On the Ballot on your preferred podcast app and catch this week’s release!
Keep reading