Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #88

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 U.S. Department of Education  
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • 20% of Colorado’s school board members will assume office without appearing on a ballot
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

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On the issues: The debate over the U.S. Department of Education

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.

President Jimmy Carter (D) signed legislation creating the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) in 1979, and it began operating the following year. Previously, federal education services had been run out of the Health, Education, and Welfare Department (renamed the Department of Health and Human Services). 

Among other things, the DoE administers grants to states for programs, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, Race to the Top and Title One School Improvement Grants, and enforces laws that Congress passes.  

The existence and role of the DoE have been topics of debate since its inception (223 members of Congress voted against legislation in 1979 that would create the department). That debate has continued through to today. Recently, several Republican presidential candidates, including former President Donald Trump (R), and various members of Congress, said they would support abolishing the department. 

Bruce Meredith and Mark Paige write that the DoE has become divisive and partisan. They say many of its responsibilities could be handled at the state and local levels and that other federal departments would more efficiently handle national activities (like awarding scholarships and enforcing anti-discrimination laws).

J. Luke Wood writes that abolishing the DoE would make education less equitable and reduce equal access to learning resources. Wood says without the department, there would not be sufficient accountability motivating states to improve learning conditions for underprivileged students or preventing discrimination.

For better schools, abolish the politicized Department of Education and give local districts more control | Bruce Meredith and Mark Paige, Los Angeles Times

“Republicans opposed the Department of Education from its beginning and regularly threaten to abolish it now, arguing that educational policy should be reserved to the states. Two respected Democrats also objected to the department’s creation almost 40 years ago. New York Sen. Daniel Moynihan warned that it would become a partisan sword. New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm worried about divorcing education from other policy areas vital to student success, such as making sure they had decent housing and enough to eat. History has proved the critics right. It’s time for the department to be dismantled. It has done some good, especially in pointing out education inequity. But more often it has served political, not educational, interests. … Washington has a role to play in education. The federal government alone is positioned to prevent “local control” from becoming a pretext for discrimination. It also must maintain funding to schools and colleges. But a separate executive branch department isn’t necessary to those functions. The essential tasks can be shifted to Health and Human Services and the Justice Department.”

Three reasons why the effort to end the U.S. Department of Education is racist | J. Luke Wood, The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Rep. Massie and other lawmakers have signaled they are simply advocating for state and local control; however, the reality is dimmer. Their efforts advance the current attack on diversity in the curriculum and efforts of the U.S. Department of Education to hold state and local officials’ accountability for issues of discrimination. … For these authorities (e.g., governors and school boards), shaping curricula means teaching a fairy-tale version of U.S. history and one that ignores the ills of the enslavement of Africans, genocide against Native Americans, and numerous other wrongs (e.g., Jim Crow, miscegenation laws, redlining). Interestingly, these wrongs were also advanced under the guise of state rights and sovereignty. … The department’s mission is to foster “equal access” to education by “prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.” This mission is supported by numerous offices, programs and White House initiatives designed to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. … Without these efforts, states and districts that are turning back the clock on school curricula will be empowered to also turn back the clock on the treatment and dignity of diverse students.”

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

Atlanta Public Schools, Georgia

On Dec. 5, voters decided a runoff election for Atlanta Public Schools school board At-Large Seat 7. According to unofficial results, Alfred Brooks defeated incumbent Tamara Jones 64.6% to 35.4%. 

Brooks is a high school economics and government teacher. 

Click here to read Jones’ responses in our Candidate Connection survey. 

Jones, Brooks, and Wiliam Sardin faced off in the Nov. 7 general election. Jones received 48.2% of the vote, while Brooks received 47.3%. Because no candidate won a majority of the vote, the top-two vote-getters advanced to the runoff. Sardin received 4.5% of the vote in the general, and endorsed Brooks in the runoff. 

Five seats on the nine-member board were up for election this year. On Nov. 7, three incumbents were re-elected

Atlantic Public Schools has approximately 52,400 students, making it the sixth-largest district in the state

20% of Colorado’s school board members will assume office without appearing on a ballot

Last week, we took a deep dive into Nov. 7 school board election results in Minnesota and Virginia, with an emphasis on the endorsements data we collected and what it reveals about the ideological dynamics in those officially nonpartisan races. Minnesota and Virginia were two of the 10 states whose school board elections we comprehensively covered this year. 

Today, we will continue our analysis with a look at election results in Colorado. 

Earlier this year, we published comprehensive analyses on ideological performance, open seats, incumbents defeated, and more, in three of the 10 states that held school board elections before Nov. 7— Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

We’ll continue publishing analyses on four additional states throughout December. You can follow along here

You can read our full Colorado analysis here. Three items of note from the report:

  • 20% of Colorado elections were canceled
  • Registered Republicans won about 50% of all seats up for election
  • The average age of winning candidates was 50 years old. 

20% of Colorado’s school board elections were canceled

All 178 school districts in Colorado held elections on Nov. 7, with 523 (53%) of the state’s 978 school board seats on the ballot. But of the state’s 978 school board members, roughly 20%—198—were elected by default.


In Colorado, school districts can cancel their elections if there aren’t enough candidates, as was the case in 75 school districts this year. In most cases, this means the people who filed to run are automatically elected. But if nobody runs, it creates a vacancy that the board must fill before the end of the year. There were 24 such vacancies this year.

Altogether, 52% of all seats up for election (274) were either uncontested or in canceled elections. The remaining 48% (249) were contested, meaning more people were on the ballot than positions available.

Colorado is not the only state that cancels school board elections if not enough candidates file to run. Roughly 80% of school board elections were canceled in South Dakota this year. In Oklahoma, that figure was 76%.

Most of the canceled elections in Colorado were in smaller, more rural school districts. The largest district to cancel its elections was the St. Vrain Valley School District north of Denver, the state’s seventh-largest district by student enrollment.

In addition to the 198 seats in canceled elections, there were uncontested elections for 76 seats.

Most Republican-won seats were in uncontested races

Victories in uncontested races accounted for a majority of all registered Republicans elected to school boards across the state. 

Overall, Republicans won 260 seats, or 49.7% of all 523 seats up for election. That total includes 139 uncontested seats, accounting for 53% of all Republican victories statewide.

Colorado’s school board elections are officially nonpartisan, but we used publicly available voter registration information to identify candidates’ partisan affiliations.

Once we have that information, we can divide the school board races into three categories:

  • Uncontested: where whoever is on the ballot is guaranteed to win. This also includes all canceled elections;
  • Contested intra-party: where the election is contested between candidates from the same party; and,
  • Contested inter-party: where the election is contested between candidates of different parties.

For both Republican and independent or minor party winners, most of those wins came in either uncontested or contested intra-party elections, at 65% and 59%, respectively.

Most Democratic wins were in contested inter-party elections, where they ran against candidates with some other party affiliation.

The average school board candidate was less than 50 years old

Here’s something fun we learned thanks to that voter file, which also lists voters’ ages.   

  • The average school board candidate in Colorado was 48.6 years old this year. Democratic candidates were 50.3 years, on average, compared to 48.4 years old for Republicans, and 47.7 years old for independent or minor party candidates.
  • Angel Bujanda Gutierrez, 23, the state’s youngest school board winner this year, ran in the Lake County School District. That race was uncontested, with three seats up for election, the other two winners being incumbent Miriam Lozano, 27, and Grayson Cooper, 33. As a result, the average age of the district’s five-member school board will drop from 49.2 to 36.6 years old.
  • Vance Alfrey, 81, was the state’s oldest school board winner. He and Bill Brooks, 69, both incumbents, were re-elected automatically to the Vilas School Board after the district canceled its November election.
  • Candidates aged 45 to 54 had the highest win rate, at 72% overall and 57% in contested elections.
  • Candidates aged 18 to 24 had the lowest win rate, but only three were on the ballot this year.
  • The next lowest was candidates aged 65 to 75, with a 64% win rate overall.
  • That changes when focusing only on contested elections, at which point those aged 25 to 34 have the next lowest win rate at 45%.

Click here to read more from our analysis of Colorado’s school board elections.

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

Today, we’re looking at responses from two candidates who ran in the Nov. 7 general election for Falcon School District 49 school board, District 2, in Colorado. Debra Schmidt defeated Candace Lehmann 57.6% to 42.4%. 

Three seats on the board were up for election this year. In 2022, 24,766 students attended one of the district’s 32 schools.

Colorado was one of 10 states this year where we covered all elections. Learn more here.

Here’s how Schmidt answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?

  • “I support better parent-school partnerships. We need to craft policies that strengthen parental involvement and decision making. When a student is struggling academically or emotionally parents are the first call to be made. Then as a team all involved caring adults gather and discuss all options for the student which leads parents to informed, well thought out, common sense decisions.
  • I support full transparency. Currently there are many programs and curricula that parents never see, or never see all of. Some of this is due to contracts that school districts sign with publishers and creators of these materials. These contracts use “proprietary” or “copyright” language which results in lack of full transparency. Parents have a right to see the entirety off all educational content.
  • I believe schools need to teach core academics through the neutral lens of confirmed facts. Our academic scores are terrible resulting in a huge disservice for our students. We can teach our students that every human being has inherent value and should be treated fairly. We can teach our students the failings of America as well as the best of America. We need an informed citizenry that is capable of self-governance. In order to accomplish these things the students need to be able to read and write.”

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

Here’s how Lehmann answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?

  • “Respect and Dignity- we all have different opinions on how things should work. But to solve the issues we must listen to all points of view with respect and dignity- divisiveness and discord cannot solve problems.
  • Service- I will strive to advance District policy with an unwavering dedication to the holistic well-being and achievement of all students we are privileged to serve.
  • Safety and Security- it is my priority to help District’s 49 administration fortify educational environments where students, teachers and staff can thrive without fear for their personal safety.”

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