Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #92

Correction: In a story last week about a recall election against one member of the Plattsmouth Community School District Board of Education, in Nebraska, we wrote that a book review committee “recommended the removal of 51 books from the library.” The committee actually recommended the removal of one of the 52 books up for review. We apologize for that mixup and regret the error.

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 Los Angeles’ Black Student Achievement Plan 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • State education officials issued the most school board endorsements in 2023
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

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On the issues: The debate over Los Angeles’ Black Student Achievement Plan

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.

The Los Angeles Board of Education approved the Black Student Achievement Plan (BSAP) in February 2021. The Los Angeles Unified School District website said: “Funding allocations have been earmarked to address the longstanding disparities in educational outcomes between Black students and their non-Black peers.” The plan’s budget funds counselors, social workers, and other support staff for Black students. The LAUSD in 2023 approved a $26 million budget increase for the plan.

Glenn Sacks writes the BSAP and the employees hired because of it are necessary to support Black students and their teachers. Sacks says teachers cannot always offer the oversight and mentoring that disadvantaged Black students need, so social workers and counselors are important for keeping the children on track. 

Heather MacDonald writes that the BSAP wastes money on functions that aren’t the district’s responsibility. She says that without parental or community support, no amount of spending can improve disadvantaged students’ achievement. MacDonald says schools should not use race as a basis for awarding resources and assistance and should focus on establishing one standard of achievement and behavior for all students. 

Conservative Attack on Program to Help Black Students Is Misguided | Glenn Sacks, RealClearEducation

“Those who are not in the education field may read some of these job titles and think the district is squandering tax dollars by hiring people for jobs that are ill-defined or of limited utility. In fact, BSAP helps fill a gaping need. … With students in group homes, a teacher’s or a school’s efforts to hold the students accountable are often frustrated by some foster care agencies’ attitudes that any school-related issues are the school’s problem, not theirs. Sometimes these students do something thoughtlessly stupid – ‘knuckleheaded’ in our lingo – and get in trouble for it, disrupting the academic continuity already so elusive for them. Many of these students face weighty family issues. Some take these problems to their teachers, but we are not trained in psychology or social work, and sometimes don’t know how to get these students and their families access to the resources they need. What these kids need is oversight. They need counselors and social workers who can build relationships with them, help them stay on track, and talk and walk them out of trouble. Much of BSAP’s funding is devoted to hiring the personnel to provide these crucial services.”

Funding for Failure | Heather Mac Donald, City Journal

“Funding such offices requires princely sums; the BSAP just received an additional $26 million in 2023, on top of its existing budget. The BSAP bankrolls counselors, climate advocates, and psychiatric social workers to work with black students in ‘high priority’ schools. It doles out ‘Innovation Capacity-Building’ grants of up to $100,000 to entities that promise to improve black achievement. Any school system that can afford climate advocates (as part of a black uplift plan, no less) is not hurting for taxpayer dollars. Any school system that runs a massive system of subcontracting for ‘psychiatric social workers’ and ‘counselors’ is not hurting for taxpayer dollars. Such a system has more money than it knows what to do with. … It’s up to parents to make sure that their children are not running the streets. Parents have to cultivate in their offspring a commitment to hard work and self-discipline. Schools can jumpstart those traits by upholding a single standard of achievement, a single standard of behavior, and an unrelenting focus on basic skills. Moreover, celebrating one racial group at the expense of others is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications

In 2023, Ballotpedia covered elections for over 9,000 school board seats in more than 3,000 districts across 34 states. We’re expanding our coverage each year with our eye on the more 13,000 districts with elected school boards. 

On Jan. 9, voters in the Plattsmouth Community Schools district in Nebraska recalled Terri Cunningham-Swanson, a member of the Board of Education. The vote was 62.2% to 37.8% in favor of the recall.  

The recall effort started after Cunningham-Swanson called for a formal review of school library books. 

This is the first recall of 2024. Click here to see a list of upcoming recall elections.

Cunningham-Swanson said the books had “very graphic sexual content. And I do mean graphic. The list of books is on the website, too. Parents can check them out for themselves. Then go to a parent-run website, such as booklooks.org or ratedbooks.org to read the content of these books.”

The nine-member board established a committee to review 52 books. On Nov. 14, the committee recommended the board remove one book from the library. The board voted 8-1 to do so. 

Recall supporter Ryan Michael Whitmore said, “Terri has decided to push an extreme personal agenda that will be a burden on the staff and taxpayers. The agenda is to remove materials that are related to LGBTIA+, showing certain minorities in a positive light and showing Christianity in a negative light.”

About 1,480 students were enrolled in Plattsmouth Community Schools in 2022. The median school district in the country has around 1,135 students. 

As of this writing, Ballotpedia has tracked 15 school board recall efforts against 34 members this year. 

State education officials issued the most school board endorsements in 2023

School board elections have increasingly drawn the attention of those far removed from district boundaries—including state-level officials and national organizations. In 2022, for example, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) endorsed a slate of school board candidates. His opponent in that year’s gubernatorial election, Charlie Crist (D), responded in kind with his own list of preferred candidates. 

Since then, as part of our ongoing effort to provide voters with helpful insights into the ideological positions and policy stances of school board candidates, we’ve cataloged all state executive officials—or candidates—who’ve issued endorsements in school board races.

In 2023, we identified 31 such endorsers who made 111 school board endorsements. That’s more endorsers than the seven in 2022 but fewer than the 114 endorsements that year.

State education officials, including state superintendents and members of state boards of education or regents, were the most active endorsers. Fourteen of them, spread across five states, issued 36 endorsements in 2023.

Meanwhile, governors and gubernatorial candidates were less active in 2023 than in 2022.

We identified 10 such endorsements in 2023, compared to 51 in 2022.

Four governors endorsed either one or two school board candidates in 2023: Mike Dunleavy (R-Alaska), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-Ark.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Kevin Stitt (R-Okla.).

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D), who is running for governor in Virginia, endorsed three candidates, and Semi Bird (R), a gubernatorial candidate in Washington, endorsed two.

While he did not endorse any candidates outright, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) donated $500,000 to the state Democratic Party to support school board candidates.

The top five endorsers last year were:

  1. Ohio Auditor Keith Faber (R), with 25 endorsements, 13 of whom won (52%)
  2. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who is running for the U.S. Senate this year, with 14 endorsements, five of whom won (36%)
  3. Colorado Board of Education Member Steve Durham (R), with seven endorsements, six of whom won (86%)
  4. Colorado Board of Education Member Kathy Plomer (D), with seven endorsements, five of whom won (71%)
  5. Colorado Board of Education Member Stephen Varela (R), with seven endorsements, six of whom won (86%)

Click here to read more about our work cataloging school board endorsements in last year’s 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 survey responses from Carlo Franco and Erica Valliant, two of the seven candidates who ran in the Nov. 7 general election for four seats on the Saint Paul Board of Education in Minnesota. Franco and Valliant, along with incumbent Chauntyll Allen and Yusef Carrillo, won election. Franco received 20.6% of the vote, while Valliant received 16.9%. 

Franco and Valliant were the only candidates to complete the survey. 

Saint Paul Public Schools is the second-largest district in the state, with an estimated student enrollment of around 36,000 students. 

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

  • “Carlo Franco is from and for the City of Saint Paul.
  • Our vision is for a Saint Paul Public Schools district where our schools respond creatively to the needs of every community in our city; where our students feel safe, heard, and prepared for a changing world because we will have invested in our frontlines.
  • Carlo Franco deeply understands the needs of our young people and works in partnership with them to design solutions; on the school board, Carlo will champion quality services for each and every young person throughout our great City of Saint Paul.”

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

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

  • Erica currently has 4 sons enrolled in Saint Paul Public Schools, two in elementary, two in middle school, and 1 son who graduated Saint Paul Central High School in 2020.
  • Working to make sure our students are graduating with strong financial literacy skills while exploring wealth justice so they are prepared to navigate financial decisions that will impact them for years..
  • Investing in ensuring access to quality early learning education and pre-k for all children, Promoting critical thinking skills and practice, Addressing school culture and safety

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

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

In the 2022 election cycle, 6,087 candidates completed 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 sample ballot.