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 what to do about bias in the selection of school library books
- Share candidate endorsements with us!
- School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
- Incumbent re-election rate in nation’s largest cities and school districts highest since 2020
- Extracurricular: education news and numbers from around the web
- Candidate Connection survey
Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!
On the issues: The debate over what to do about bias in the selection of school library books
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.
School libraries have limited resources. For these reasons, school boards and librarians must make choices about the books they add to libraries—choices that could reflect political, religious, or other forms of bias.
How should communities address selection bias in school library books? We look at two perspectives that agree bias is inevitable but disagree on the implications.
Paul Best writes that the initial selection process is often biased in favor of progressive reading materials and authors and tends to leave out conservative alternatives. Best says even neutrality can be a biased goal depending on who decides what’s neutral. He says the school system is too centralized and that families need more flexibility to judge the best materials for their children and select schools that reflect their values.
Nicole A. Cooke, Renate Chancellor, Yasmeen Shorish, Sarah Park Dahlen, and Amelia Gibson write that libraries cannot be neutral and should unapologetically seek to advance the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. The authors write that while libraries should provide books and materials that showcase different beliefs and values, the goal should be creating an inclusive space for everyone, especially those from historically marginalized communities.
How to Combat the Biased School Library Book Selection Process | Paul Best, Real Clear Education
“But amid the furious townhall debates over ‘banning’ books that are already in libraries, some observers note that the initial selection process – how and why libraries are stocked with certain materials – may be just as prone to bias and even more important to the question of how to rear the next generation of inquisitive, well-informed Americans. … A search of library collections in 200 randomly selected public school districts found that nearly half (44 percent) of students have access to progressive books by Ibram X. Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates, each of which argues America is plagued by systemic racism. In contrast, less than 1 percent of students had access to books by John McWhorter, Helen Pluckrose, and James Lindsay that offer counterarguments to that progressive perspective. … But bias might be inescapable for even the most well-intentioned librarians, and the embrace of neutrality is itself a value judgment. … The root cause of the uproar over book ‘bans’ might therefore lie in our top-down approach to education, which attaches tax dollars to school districts instead of students, arbitrarily forcing Americans – along with their rich diversity of culture, religions, and ideologies – into a single one-size-fits-all system.”
Once More for Those in the Back: Libraries Are Not Neutral | Nicole A. Cooke, Renate Chancellor, Yasmeen Shorish, Sarah Park Dahlen, and Amelia Gibson, Publishers Weekly
“Certainly we can all agree that libraries should provide materials with different perspectives, especially in times of growing political polarization. But we must recognize too that there is a difference between providing multiple perspectives and providing a platform for hateful, intimidating, dangerous, or dehumanizing speech that targets a specific community. To serve our communities, libraries must be safe spaces where all people can come together, see themselves represented, and discover and share different points of view. And because of the historic inequities and discrimination against people of color and the LGBTQ community, for example, the library profession’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion is not only warranted, it is imperative.”
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
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.
Upcoming school board elections
This year, Ballotpedia is covering school board elections in the 100 most populous cities, the 200 largest districts by student enrollment, and all school board elections in Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Ballotpedia will also cover additional school board elections this year as we continue expanding our coverage.
In the coming weeks, as districts finalize their election calendars and we wrap up our research, we’ll share with you a broad overview of state-by-state filing deadlines and election dates.
Here is a sampling of the school board elections we’ll cover in the next 30 days. This list is not comprehensive.
Districts in Oklahoma will hold primaries on Feb. 13. However, in Oklahoma, school board elections are canceled if candidates run uncontested. This can happen in one of two ways. If only one candidate runs for office, the election is canceled and that candidate automatically wins. If more than two candidates run, they participate in a primary in which a candidate can win outright with more than 50% of the vote. In those cases, the subsequent general election is canceled.
There are 563 school board seats up for election in Oklahoma this year with at least one candidate. Of those 563, 79% are uncontested (meaning they are canceled). The remaining 21% are contested elections:
- Primaries will be held for 20 seats on Feb. 13
- One is up for special election on March 5
- General elections will be held for 97 seats on April 2
Two seats are up for election on the Oklahoma City Public Schools school board this year.
- We are covering one primary on Feb. 13 in Oklahoma City. Jay Albertson, Scotty Hernandez, and Dana Meister are running in the primary to represent District 4.
- The primary for District 3 was canceled because only two candidates ran. Incumbent Cary Pirrong and Jessica Cifuentes automatically advanced to the April 2 general election.
Last year, Oklahoma was one of 10 states in which we covered all school board elections. We found that there were 439 uncontested elections, representing 79% of all seats up for election. Fourteen were decided in a primary, while 425 were uncontested from the start.
Oklahoma had the highest rate of uncontested school board elections in the 10 states we covered comprehensively.
Click here to read our full report on Oklahoma’s 2023 school board elections.
We will cover school board primaries in the following districts on March 5—Long Beach Unified School District, Los Angeles Unified School District, and San Diego Unified School District. We’ll have more information on those elections in the coming weeks.
Incumbent re-election rate in nation’s largest cities and school districts highest since 2020
Ballotpedia has published comprehensive analyses on all school board elections in the 100 most populous cities in the U.S. and the 200 largest districts by enrollment since 2020. Just last month, we released our analysis of those school board elections for 2023.
Here are the highlights:
- Ballotpedia covered school board elections in 192 school districts in 29 states. A total of 986 candidates ran for 514 seats.
- The 192 school districts had a total student enrollment of 5,362,958 students in 2022—approximately 11% of the 49.9 million enrolled in public K-12 schools that year.
- The average number of candidates was the lowest in four years.
- Texas had the most seats up for election with 173. Colorado had the second-most with 47. Four states—Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina—tied for the fewest seats up for election with one each, and Alaska, Arkansas, and New York had the second fewest with two each.
Let’s look at how incumbents fared last year.
A total of 318 school board incumbents in districts we covered ran for re-election, and 262 were elected to new terms—a win rate of 82.39%. That’s compared to 78.29% in 2022, 78.51% in 2021, and 81.72% in 2020.
In 13 states—Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington—all school board incumbents who ran for re-election in our scope won. In Georgia and New York, only half of incumbents were re-elected.
In districts we covered in California and South Carolina, no incumbents ran for re-election.
School board elections in 2023 had a lower percentage of seats go to incumbents compared to 2022 and 2020, but the same percentage as 2021.
The number of incumbents who ran for re-election was lower than in 2022, 2021, and 2020. A total of 61.87% of incumbents whose terms were up for election ran for new terms in 2023, while 68.18% ran in 2022, 64.92% ran in 2021, and 73.66% ran in 2020.
This meant there were more open seats in 2023 (38.13%) compared to 2022 (31.82%), 2021 (35.08%), and 2020 (26.34%).
Overall, 28.99% of seats in our core scope were unopposed. That’s compared to 24.81% in 2022, 23.84% in 2021, and 35.51% in 2020.
Methods of election
Of the 192 districts in our core scope that held elections last year, 190 used nonpartisan elections and two—in Louisiana and Pennsylvania—used partisan elections.
Nationwide, over 90% of districts hold nonpartisan elections. In four states, school board members are elected in partisan elections. In five states, state laws give school boards the option of having partisan or nonpartisan elections.
You can read the full report here.
Our coverage is growing. In 2023, we expanded it to include all school board elections in 10 states—Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. You can check out our coverage of last year’s elections in these states here.
Extracurricular: education news and numbers 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!
- Ghost Students: The Rise of Bots in Online Education | Faculty Focus
- Learning Recovery Efforts Worked. New Data Show Why States Must Not Let Up | Education Week
- Florida schools seek to save programs as federal funding cliff nears | Tampa Bay Times
- ‘Shame on Us’: How Maine Struggles to Handle Troubled Youth | The New York Times
- Flexibility for public schools is the next step for school choice | Fox News
- How the far right took over a Pennsylvania school board—and how parents took it back | Vanity Fair
- Cardona Is Inviting States to Create Innovative Exams. 4 Ways They Can Start | The 74
- What School Choice Means For Black Students In 2024 | The Paradise
- 13 Mistakes Board Members Make | National School Boards Association
- The End of Federal COVID Money Means Shortfalls for States and Schools | Governing
Numbers of the week
- Under a proposed pilot program in Ohio to combat chronic absenteeism in schools, participating districts could pay students up to $500 annually to show up for classes.
- Following a class-action settlement agreement, California will spend $2 billion on reversing pandemic-related learning loss among the most disadvantaged children.
- 53% of public and private K-12 students were dropped off at school in a private vehicle in 2022.
Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district
Today, we’re looking at responses from Stephanie Harless and Amber Epling, the winners of the Nov. 7, 2023, general election for two at-large seats on the Worthington Schools Board of Education in Ohio. Four candidates ran in the election, and all four completed the Candidate Connection survey.
Harless and Epling won with 33% of the vote and 32.1% of the vote, respectively.
The Worthington City School District is Ohio’s 14th largest school district, with an estimated enrollment of 10,600 students in 2022.
Here’s how Harless answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?”
- “I will ensure that we are listening to all voices throughout the district. Worthington Schools is comprised of neighborhoods from across Central Ohio and all of those voices should be prioritized and considered when make decisions as a board.
- I will prioritize mental health initiatives for our students, teachers, staff, and administrators. We are facing a mental health crisis in this country at all age levels and I will work with experts the support existing initiatives and expand our offerings.
- I will work closely with elected officials and key stakeholders throughout the district to identify additional funding for our schools including grants, donations, and development that brings additional revenue to our schools.”
Click here to read the rest of Harless’ answers.
Here’s how Epling answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?”
- “I have the endorsement of the Worthington Education Association and the Worthington teachers.
- I am a proud product of public schools and purposely chose Worthington Schools for my children. I am a strong supporter of the mission of public education.
- I have the skills and experience to meet this historic moment.”
Click here to read the rest of Epling’s answers.