Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #84

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 education savings accounts proposals in Texas 
  • In your district: reader replies on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in classrooms
  • Share candidate endorsements with us! 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • All candidates in 15 school board elections on Nov. 7 have completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey
  • Candidate Canvass: survey responses from around the country

Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!

On the issues: The debate over education savings accounts proposals in Texas

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. Missed an issue? Click here to see the previous education debates we’ve covered.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called the legislature into a special session on Oct. 9 to consider legislation he said would give students more schooling options. Both Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 1 would provide funding for education savings accounts (ESAs). Parents could use the accounts to pay for books, private school tuition, and other education-related expenses.

Tiffany Barfield writes that the ESAs would give families more educational options that would fit their needs better than traditional public schools. Barfield says ESA funding would not take money away from public schools and that the $500 million proposed for the program would represent less than 1% of the state’s total education budget. 

Lance Barasch writes that ESA programs encourage students to leave public schools, which can reduce public educational resources because funding is tied to student numbers and attendance. Barasch says the program would harm rural school districts most because they already tend to have smaller budgets.

This special session, the TxLege should pass school choice | Tiffany Barfield, Express-News

“Many will claim that ESAs harm funding for public schools, but that is a common scare tactic used by special interest groups. Texas spends approximately $85 billion every year on K-12 public education. The Legislature is discussing $500 million going toward an ESA program. That’s less than 1% of the K-12 public education budget. Allocating a portion of funding toward educational choice will make an enormous impact in providing kids in Texas access to a best-fit education while also continuing to fund our public schools. The one-size-fits-all model is not flexible enough to accommodate each kid’s individual way of learning, and not all families have the financial resources to provide their kids with an alternative option.”

Texas teachers need courageous legislators to do the right thing | Lance Barasch, Dallas Morning News

“[V]ouchers negatively impact far more students than they help. We have access to even more proof from other states (such as Arizona and Wisconsin) showing how vouchers don’t work for our neediest students. The data clearly indicates that these systems are especially disastrous on rural public schools, which in many Texas regions are the center of the community or even the town’s biggest employer. Systematically removing their public funding would dramatically hamper student performance, while not actually providing more or better educational opportunities in these schools’ communities.”

In your district: reader replies on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in classrooms

We recently asked readers the following question about managing disagreements between board members:

How should districts respond to generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Google Bard, and others? 

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 school board member from Ohio wrote:

School districts should introduce these tools with a discussion of responsible use, pros/cons, and the manner content is reviewed and created in a technology class for middle and high school students.

A school board member from Illinois wrote:

I think it is up to the Administration in the school to evaluate if the teachers are trained to implement and understand AI, and then decide whether to implement it or not. I think there are applications for AI, and some areas where AI will destroy creativity. 

A school board member from New Jersey wrote:

It should be embraced and made part of the curriculum. This is a tool that students should be taught how to use to their best advantage. If they phrase their prompts correctly they will get an outline/first draft that they can review for accuracy and correctness. Then they can complete the assignment, whatever it is, by fleshing out the draft and adding their own perspectives.

A school board member from Illinois wrote:

dont know much about the topic, I hear the cautions toward AI, I believe anything can get out of hand without safegaurds. This is a complicated subject and will need more investigating and research as to the benefits & downfalls of AI. keep the research coming. Fact based research.

A school director from Washington wrote:

Just like any other tool…Learn how to use them and why someone should use them in an academic setting.

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

November elections

Nov. 7, the biggest election date of the year, is less than a week away. In the following weeks, we’ll bring you election results from our battleground districts (learn more about those below), analyses of endorsements and other factors in school board elections, and a roundup of the best election takeaways from around the web.  

For coverage of other Nov. 7 elections up and down the ballot, subscribe to our Daily Brew newsletter.

Select a battleground district below to learn more:








We’re covering school board elections in the following 16 states on Nov. 7:

In seven of those states—Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington—we are covering all school board elections on Nov. 7.

All candidates in 15 school board elections on Nov. 7 have completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

It can be challenging to find information on school board candidates.  

As part of our mission to solve the ballot information problem, we’ve expanded the number of school board elections we’re covering—from 515 elections in 2021 to 8,750 this year. That includes coverage of all school board elections in 10 states. 

We not only want to make it easy for voters to discover their candidates—we also want them to hear from the candidates themselves. That’s why we created our Candidate Connection survey

As of this writing, all the candidates in the following 15 school board general elections on Nov. 7 have completed the survey, giving voters in those districts a unique insight into their choices on the ballot. 

The Douglas County School District is one of 14 battleground districts we’re covering on Nov. 7. 

Let’s take a closer look at a handful of the candidates. 

Academy School District 20, Colorado

Two at-large seats on the Academy School District 20 school board are up for general election.

  • Academy School District 20 is Colorado’s 10th largest district by enrollment. Student enrollment in 2022 was 26,050.
  • The district is located north of Colorado Springs.
  • Republicans represent the three state House districts that overlap Academy School District 20.
    Three Colorado House districts overlap Academy School District 20, and a Republican represents all three. 
  • The board consists of five members elected to four-year terms.

Click here to read more about the district, including the latest statistics on the budget, academic performance, and staff. 

Amy Shandy, Derrick Wilburn, and incumbents Heather Cloninger and Will Temby are running in the nonpartisan general election. 

Here is how each of these candidates answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

  • Shandy: “I am passionate about returning D20 back to a focused mindset where the main things are the main things: reading, writing, math, science and civics. Implementing board policy that reflects the community’s vision and values for things like age-appropriate library books will help alleviate the distractions and return to an academic focus mindset.”
  • Wilburn: “I am personally passionate about the erosion of parental rights. With very rare exceptions, nobody cares more about the welfare of children than their parents. They raise and nurture to the best of their abilities for 18 years. The very idea that a public institution, like the school system, can work against parents or be actively involved in deceiving or keeping information from parents ought to give pause to all. Schools must partner with the families.
  • Cloninger: “I believe EVERY child deserves the right to an education. I believe EVERY child deserves a safe nurturing learning environment. I believe in a parent’s right to choose which school their children should attend. My husband and I have been parents of choice for many years I’m grateful for the opportunities our children have had in the schools we’ve chosen for them. I also strongly believe in our local control over our own districts. Just as we as parents know what’s best for our children, we as a board know what’s best for our district. I will watch out for all our students as I am on the board. I look forward to continuing to serve on ASD20’s school board, so I can continue to watch out for ALL 26,000+ students in our district.”
  • Temby: “Foremost is education–especially school finance at the state level and IDEA full-funding at the Federal level. I am also passionate about local control as specified in the Colorado State Constitution.”

Lake Washington School District, Washington

Three seats on the Lake Washington School District school board are up for general election. Both candidates in the District 5 race completed the Candidate Connection survey. 

  • The Lake Washington School District is Washington’s second-largest district. Student enrollment in 2022 was 30,730.
  • The district is located east of Seattle, and includes the city of Redmond.
  • Democrats represent all four state House districts—1, 41, 48, and 48—that overlap the school district.
  • The board consists of five members elected to four-year terms.

Click here to read more about the district.

Janel Schermerhorn and Lindsey Yocum are running for the District 5 seat. Here’s how they answered the question, “What is the primary job of a school board member in your view?

  • Schermerhorn: “To represent the values and priorities of the community and hold the district accountable by setting policies, monitoring outcomes, and ensuring fiscal responsibility.”
  • Yocum: “School board members have a variety of jobs. They set and monitor policy that governs the school district, approve the district’s budget and ensure that funds are allocated in a way that support the districts values and goals, and work alongside local leaders and legislators to improve public education across our district and state. I believe one of the most important jobs of a school director is to serve as a connector between community members and the district. Board members meet and communicate with their constituents and seek feedback on district programs and policies.” 

We’ll be back next week with an early look at school board election results. 

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. 

In the 2022 election cycle, 6,087 candidates completed the survey. 

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

The survey contains more than 30 questions, and you can respond to 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 sample ballot.

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!

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

Candidate canvass: survey responses from around the country

In this section, we feature school board candidate responses to surveys and questionnaires from political organizations and news outlets. Know of a survey or questionnaire in your area that we’ve missed? Reply to this email to share it with us! 

Twelve seats on the Fairfax Public Schools school board in Virginia are up for general election on Nov. 7. Patch, a network of local news sites, invited candidates to complete a survey about why they’re running for office and what issues they hope to fix. 

Today, let’s look at what the candidates running for the Hunter Mill District had to say. Incumbent Melanie Meren and Harry Randall Jackson are running in the nonpartisan general election. 

Here’s how Meren answered the question, “What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?

“I believe that strong schools make a strong community. I’ve held a lifelong track record of promoting public education. I engage and empower parents, families, students, and the community to work together to build up our public schools. Please see my You Tube channel and official FCPS newsletters for evidence of my efforts to advocate for and with Fairfax residents.”

Click here to read the rest of Meren’s responses. Meren also completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. 

Here’s how Jackson answered the question, “What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?

“A critical difference between myself and Melanie Meren is that I will show up to school board meetings and participate in school board votes on a consistent basis. A claim Mrs. Meren cannot make. I am also against racist policies, the inclusion of child pornography and pederasty in our school libraries, and I am against the cover-up of child rape or retraumatizing victims in cruel and inhumane ways as Mrs. Meren has done in supporting her legal teams demand for invasive vaginal, anal, and cervix exams of a rape victim without the presence of an advocate. I am also against bullying FCPS staff into retirement, another accomplishment of Mrs. Meren’s.”

Click here to read the rest of Jackson’s responses.