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 student absenteeism
- In your district: Top issues facing school districts in 2024
- Voters to decide six education-related statewide ballot measures in 2024 (so far!)
- Extracurricular: education news from around the web
- Candidate Connection survey
Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!
On the issues: The debate over student absenteeism
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 share of public school students who miss more than 10% of school days—classified as chronically absent—increased by an estimated 91% (or 6.5 million students) between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years, when schools closed to in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 2018-19 school year, more than 7 million students were estimated to have been chronically absent from classrooms.
Nick Morrison writes that for many students, especially those who aren’t planning to attend college, skipping school and avoiding exams can seem rational. Morrison says schools should examine ways to add value for students who want to enter a trade or vocation immediately after high school. He says schools need to stop making academic students winners and setting all other students up as losers.
Antonette Bowman writes that student absence results from fear and distrust between parents and teachers. Bowman says schools must reach out to and build stronger relationships with parents to reduce student absences. She also says schools need to be better maintained and more inviting to attract students back.
“[Student absence] is the result of a high stakes school system that is predicated on winners and losers, that values the academic route and devalues the vocational, and where it is not enough for some to succeed, others must fail. For some students, the prospect of staying at school only to fail exams is, entirely understandably, less than appealing. … The principal argument in aiming to reduce student absence is that high levels of absence lead to poorer grades, but perhaps it also works the other way around: the prospect of poor grades leads to high levels of absence. If a student is expecting to fail, they have little incentive to go to school. And for some students, perhaps we shouldn’t be asking why they skip school. Instead, we should be asking how schools can change to give them a reason to go.”
Why American Students Are Skipping School | Antonette Bowman, RealClearEducation
“[P]arents and teachers should meet together – in person – several times a year for meaningful conversation where they can ask questions and demonstrate genuine support for one another. … Ideally, schools and families could also find ways to share a meal or two together during the year. Sharing meals unifies in a uniquely human way and builds social and emotional connection. … In addition, communities must work together to create the safe and beautiful learning environments our children deserve. Too many schools in our country are poorly maintained, unsafe, and ugly. … Taking essential steps to heal the cornerstone relationships between parents and schools can help alleviate fear and distrust – inspiring students to come back to class.”
In your district: Top issues facing school districts in 2024
Welcome to our first reader survey of the new year! 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.
What are the top issues facing your school district in 2024?
Click here to respond!
Voters to decide six education-related statewide ballot measures in 2024 (so far!)
We’re just a few weeks into 2024, and so far, voters in five states will decide on six statewide measures affecting different facets of their education systems. The measures deal with topics including school board elections, school choice, funding, and higher education governance.
Campaigns are in the process of collecting and submitting signatures to place additional education-related measures on the ballot. We’re currently following 19 such measures on topics like prayer in schools, teacher pay, graduation requirements, education savings accounts, funding, and more. As the year progresses and signature deadlines pass, we’ll likely see the number of certified measures rise above six.
Let’s review the certified measures in Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska, Nevada, and Utah.
On Nov. 5, voters in The Natural State will decide the Lottery Proceed Funding for Vocational-Technical School Scholarships and Grants Amendment. The amendment would allow proceeds from the state lottery to fund scholarships and grants for vocational-technical schools and technical institutes.
Arkansas is one of 45 states with a state lottery.
When the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery (ASL) was approved in 2008, the proceeds were earmarked for scholarships and grants for students enrolled in “public and private non-profit two-year and four-year colleges and universities located within the state that are certified according to criteria established by the General Assembly.”
State Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R) introduced the amendment in 2023, and the legislature backed it unanimously.
Arkansas State University Vice President for University Relations Shane Broadway said, “As we worked on developing the scholarship program, we were told by our attorneys we could not include state-owned vocational-technical schools because they were not included in the definition in the constitutional amendment.”
Since 2009, the lottery has provided more than 720,000 college scholarships, awarded $4.6 billion in prizes, given $386 million in retailer commissions, and provided approximately $167 million in state and federal tax revenue.
Voters will decide the Partisan School Board Elections Amendment on Nov. 5. The amendment would make school board elections partisan beginning in the November 2026 general election and for partisan primaries for the 2026 election.
Florida’s school board elections have been nonpartisan since 1998, when residents approved Amendment 11 in a 64.1% to 35.9% vote.
Amendment sponsor State Rep. Spencer Roach (R) said, “This is not about, at least for me, advancing the cause of one political party over another. But for me it’s about transparency, and I simply believe that we have an obligation to give voters as much information about a candidate as possible, and let them make a decision about vetting a candidate.”
Amendment opponent State Rep. Angela Nixon (D) said, “I believe this bill is not about transparency at all. This bill is about making our school-board elections and our school boards more contentious, more like D.C., which [Republicans] honestly always try to oppose.”
Four states — Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania — have state laws providing for partisan school board elections. Five states — Rhode Island, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia — allow partisan or nonpartisan school board elections depending on the district. School districts in 41 states hold nonpartisan elections.
On Nov. 5, Voters will decide the fate of the state’s scholarship tax credit program in a veto referendum on Nov. 5.
The veto referendum would repeal Legislative Bill 753, which the state Senate passed in 2023 in a 33-11 vote. LB 753 created a nonrefundable tax credit for qualifying taxpayers who contribute to scholarship-granting organizations for education scholarships.
Nebraska joined 24 other states in offering some form of education tax-credit program.
Jenni Benson, a sponsor of Support Our Schools Nebraska and president of the Nebraska State Education Association said, “The overwhelming success of this petition sends a clear message to the governor and state lawmakers: Nebraskans want to vote on the issue of diverting public tax dollars to pay for private schools.”
State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (R), who introduced LB 753, said, “They’re saying that we are taking money away from the public schools. It is insulting to the Legislature, which appropriated $300 million in new dollars for education, on top of a billion-dollar Education Future Fund.”
On Nov. 5, voters will decide the Remove Constitutional Status of Board of Regents Amendment. The amendment would remove the Board of Regents from the Nevada Constitution and authorize the Legislature to review and change the governing organization of state universities.
The Board of Regents is an elected board that oversees eight public institutions of higher education in Nevada, including the University of Nevada System.
An amendment to remove the constitutional status of the Board of Regents was also on the 2020 ballot. Voters defeated this amendment 50.15% to 49.85%.
Former college presidents Dr. Carol Lucey and Dr. John Gwaltney said, “By ensuring that NSHE [Nevada System of Higher Education] and the Board of Regents are held accountable, like every other state entity, and not shielded from critical oversight, we will be in a better place to meet the future needs of our state economy.”
The Nevada State Education Association, which opposes the measure, said, “Elected boards are in place to ensure schools and colleges reflect the values of the people, providing direct lines of accountability to the community.
So far, two education-related statewide measures have been approved for the ballot this year. Both deal with funding.
The Utah State School Fund Distribution Cap Increase Amendment, a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, would increase the limit on annual distributions from the State School Fund for public education from 4% to 5% of the fund.
The fund is provided for under Section 5 of Article X of the Utah Constitution. Only investment earnings, not principal, can be distributed from the Utah State School Fund, and the money can only be directed toward the public education system. Distributions are independent of other tax revenues that are dedicated to education funding. Since voter approval of Utah Amendment B in 2016, annual distributions are capped at 4% of the fund.
State Rep. Jefferson Moss (R), who sponsored the amendment, said, “this would increase the cap of the payout, which will be great. It will increase the amount we can give directly to school children and schools throughout the state.”
The Constitutional Requirements for Education Funding Amendment, also legislatively referred, would remove the constitutional mandate on how revenues from income taxes and intangible property taxes are spent on education. Currently, the Utah Constitution says all revenue from income taxes and intangible property taxes must be used to fund public education, higher education, children, and persons with disabilities.
The amendment would allow tax revenue from intangible property and income to be used for other purposes once the requirements for public education funding are met.
State Senator and amendment sponsor Dan McCay (R) said the amendment would “protect and provide continued constitutional protections but then allow for … revenue in the income tax fund to be used for other state purposes once we fulfilled our responsibilities for growth, and for student enrollment and long-term inflation.”
Utah House Democrats said, “We cannot support these measures to remove the constitutional earmark on public education funding because education funding is essential to our state’s future and should never be used as a bargaining chip. We strongly believe that education funding is non-negotiable and as Democrats, we believe we must continue to keep public education a priority.”
Voters will decide both measures on Nov. 5.
Here are the 19 potential measures we’re following that could appear on the ballot:
- Arizona Statewide Salary for Educators Amendment
- Arizona Public Money for School Districts Amendment
- California Public School and College Health and Safety Bond Measure
- California Public Education Facilities Bond Measure
- California Landfill Management and Education Funding Initiative
- California Right to Public Education Initiative
- California Require Parental Notification of Student Gender Identity Different from Student’s Record Initiative
- California Prohibit Males (XY Chromosomes) from Competing in Female (XX Chromosomes) Sports in Public Schools and Universities Initiative
- California Require Personal Finance Course for High School Graduation Initiative
- California Education Savings Accounts Initiative
- California Establish University of California Online Initiative
- Colorado Constitutional Right to School Choice Initiative
- Florida Prayer in Schools Initiative
- Massachusetts Repeal Competency Assessment Requirement for High School Graduation Initiative
- Missouri Transfer Student Amendment
- Oregon School Choice Account Amendment
- Oregon Education Savings Account Initiative
- Oregon Right to Adequate Public Education Amendment
- Washington Initiative 2081, Parental Right to Review Education Materials, Receive Notifications, and Opt Out of Sexual-Health Education Initiative
In even-numbered years since 2000, voters have decided an average of 14 statewide education-related measures—though that number has fallen in recent years. Including odd-numbered election cycles, an average of about nine such measures have appeared on ballots each year since 2000.
Our database has more than 1,000 statewide education-related measures that were certified for the ballot between 1862 and 2023. You can see the full list here.
Click here to read more about 2024 ballot measures.
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!
- Plan to elect Chicago school board hits political land mines | Chicago Business
- Small-town Nebraska voters remove school board member who tried to pull books from libraries | The Associated Press
- Tennessee senators warn against impact of rejecting $1B in federal funds | K-12 Dive
- 7 trends state lawmakers need to know for 2024 | Thomas B. Fordham Institute
- As enrollment drops, school closures loom for more Washington communities | Oregon Capital Chronicle
- As Enrollment Declines, Districts Consider Closing Schools | Education Week
- Utah Governor to Schools: Remove Cellphones During Class Time | The 74
- United Federation of Teachers sues New York City over budget cuts | CBS New York
Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district
Today, we’re looking at responses from Tia Otoo and Evan Botzki, two of the six candidates who ran for two at-large seats on the Euclid City School District school board in Ohio on Nov. 7. Otoo and Botzki won the election, receiving 30.3% and 22.8% of the vote, respectively.
Otoo and Botzki were the only candidates to complete the survey.
Euclid City School District is the 61st largest in the state, with an estimated enrollment of 5,000 students.
Here’s how Otoo answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”
“I am most passionate about education. I believe every child deserves access to high quality education. I am an advocate for public schools and I believe every urban school district can adequately prepare scholars for post graduate plans. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that policies and procedures are fair and appropriate for students facing disadvantages so that they can also thrive in society.”
Click here to read the rest of Otoo’s responses.
Here’s how Botzki answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”
“I am incredibly passionate about the realm of public education. I believe that it is a great boon to our society: it ensures that everyone in our society, no matter their background, can receive a quality education. Aside from public education, I am greatly dedicated to the fight against food insecurity. In college, I briefly studied the background and effects of food insecurity, which led to me taking a job at the college’s food pantry. These opportunities taught me a great deal, and it is something that I hope to continue researching and advocating for in the future.”
Click here to read the rest of Botzki’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.