Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #104

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 school chaplains
  • Share candidate endorsements with us!  
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • From the ballot to the blackboard: Upcoming education-related ballot measure news
  • 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 school chaplains

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 Florida Legislature passed a bill in early March 2024 that would allow public schools to use volunteer chaplains to “provide support, services, and programs to students as assigned by the district school board.” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has not yet acted on the bill. 

Texas enacted a similar law last year. So far in 2024, at least 13 other states are considering similar measures. Today, we’re going to look at arguments on whether school chaplains are good for students.

In a future edition of Hall Pass, we’ll examine arguments about whether school chaplains are constitutional.

Heather L. Weaver writes that allowing chaplains in public schools is inherently coercive and harmful to students. Weaver says chaplains do not always receive the same training as counselors and that many proposed bills would allow them to function in similar guidance roles. She writes that allowing chaplains in schools would promote inadequate mental health support for students and could be especially harmful to LQBTQ and other vulnerable children.

Jorge Gomez writes that allowing chaplains in schools would give students more support options and would not take away other resources like guidance counselors or force religious instruction. Gomez says chaplains are well-equipped to support students and that religious guidance is an effective method for improving children’s well-being for students who want it.

Why Allowing Chaplains in Public Schools Harms Students | Heather L. Weaver, ACLU

“Allowing chaplains in public schools violates students’ and families’ right to religious freedom. And, because chaplains are typically not trained or certified to provide educational or counseling services to youth, students are likely to receive inadequate mental health support that, in some cases, may be harmful. … Authorizing untrained and uncertified chaplains to engage in the same duties as school counselors will result in inadequate mental health support for students. In some cases, chaplains may provide inappropriate responses or interventions that could gravely harm students, including those experiencing mental health crises, LGBTQ students, and other vulnerable individuals. When a student seeks mental health care at school, that care should be provided by a qualified professional.”

Volunteer Chaplains in Public Schools Are Constitutional—and Beneficial for Students | Jorge Gomez, First Liberty

“Critics also say allowing chaplains in public schools ‘endangers students’ well-being’ or is somehow ‘harmful.’ They claim chaplains are not equipped to give students adequate support, or that religious guidance isn’t effective. That’s also not true. Research widely supports the idea that religious guidance and support can have a positive impact for school-age children. It can be a huge boost to their overall well-being. … If a chaplain can help them in their education or home life, why limit their choices? Again, this is all about offering students another line of support if they choose to use it. It’s not about taking away other types of counseling or support services. To say that public school chaplains are ‘harmful’ to students is just flat out wrong. Data and research do not support that claim.”

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

On April 16, Ballotpedia is covering general elections for three seats on the Newark Public Schools school board and a special general election for one board seat.

Incumbent Kanileah Anderson is the only candidate on the ballot in the special election.

In the regular general elections, nine candidates are running for the three seats. Incumbents Dawn Haynes, Vereliz Santana, and Helena Vinhas are running as the “Moving Newark Schools Forward” slate. Haynes and Santana ran as part of the “Moving Newark Schools Forward” slate in 2021 and 2018. 

Che’ J.T. Colter and Muta El-Amin are running as the “It Takes a Village” slate. 

Latoya Jackson, Sheila Montague, Debra Salters, and Jimmie White are also running. 

Candidates running as the “Moving Newark Schools Forward” slate have won all elections to the board since 2016. In last year’s elections, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka (D) endorsed the slate.

Newark Public schools is the largest district in New Jersey, with an estimated enrollment of more than 41,000 students.  

Election results from the past week

On April 2, Ballotpedia covered school board elections in six states—Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.  

In addition to our coverage of elections in those states, we’re also providing specialized coverage of school board battlegrounds—elections we expect to have a meaningful effect on the balance of power or to be particularly competitive or compelling. We’ll bring you more in-depth coverage of school board battleground elections throughout the year. 

Let’s look at one of those battlegrounds decided on April 2—the general election for Green Bay Area Public School District

  • The candidates: Incumbent Andrew M. Becker, Paul Boucher, Kou Lee, and Alex Mineau ran in the election. Unofficial results as of April 3 show Becker and Lee with 35.2% and 27.8% of the vote, respectively. Mineau and Boucher had 26% and 11%, respectively. 

Becker is an IT technician who has served on the board since 1998. Lee is a business owner. Boucher is a Green Bay resident and former Georgetown University employee. Mineau is a teacher who earlier worked in the district.

  • Endorsements and support: Both the Democratic and Republican parties of Brown County endorsed candidates. County Democrats endorsed Lee, while county Republicans endorsed Mineau. Both parties endorsed Becker.
  • The election backstory: The election follows the Feb. 17 resignation of Superintendent Dr. Claude Tiller after his appearance on an Atlanta-area radio show.

According to the Associated Press, Tiller “made blunt comments about race relations, criticized the community and derided one of the district’s principals.” Tiller’s comments criticized both Green Bay at large and individual staff members for what he described as outdated and inappropriate attitudes towards race relations. Although the school board did not specify why it had accepted Tiller’s resignation, Tiller’s supporters said he had been pushed to resign for his comments criticizing the community at large and that he had been held to a higher standard than a white superintendent. Stephanie Guzman, a community member, said: “They’re sending the message that if you’re BIPOC (black, indigenous, person of color) you can’t make any mistake.”

  • The Tiller resignation aftermath: After Tiller’s resignation, resource centers for the city’s Hispanic, Black, and Somali populations founded a group called United Front for Social Change. The group is calling for the board to appoint a minority member to replace Laura Laitinen-Warren, who resigned on Feb. 24. Laitinen-Warren is a member of the Oneida Nation. 
  • Green Bay Area Public School District is the fourth-largest in the state. Approximately 19,000 students were enrolled in the 2021-2022 school year.

From the ballot to the blackboard: Upcoming education-related ballot measure news

The ballot measure has shaped education policy since the 19th century. In this section, we’ll bring you monthly updates on upcoming statewide education-related measures and a look back at significant or interesting historical measures. Ballotpedia’s Historic Ballot Measures project (HBM) aims to document nearly 200 years of direct democracy in the United States. This ongoing research effort will provide an unparalleled resource for researchers, reporters, and the voting public on how ballot measures have evolved, the issues they’ve covered, and the role they have played in our civic life. Our list of historical education-related measures stretches back to 1862.

We last updated you on 2024 statewide ballot measures in January

So far, six education-related ballot measures are on the ballot in six states—Utah, Florida, Arkansas, Nevada, Nebraska, Kentucky. We are also watching 19 additional statewide measures that could appear on the ballot this year. 

Here’s a quick update on a measure in California that could appear on the ballot. 

In March, Californians for Financial Education submitted nearly 900,000 signatures for an initiative that would require students graduating during the 2029-2030 academic year to complete a one-semester personal finance course. The measure would also require a personal finance course to be offered by the 2026-2027 academic year.

As of January 2024, seven states—Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia—required a personal finance course to graduate from public high school.

The initiatives endorsers include U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D), Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond (D), State Treasurer Fiona Ma (D), and State Controller Malia Cohen (D).

Thurmond said, “I strongly support the California Personal Finance Initiative. It is crucial as it addresses the pressing need for financial literacy among our youth, empowering them with essential skills to navigate the complexities of personal finance. It fosters economic empowerment, bridges equity gaps, and I believe it will secure brighter economic futures for all.”

Former Los Angeles school board member David Tokofsky said: “We already require economics to graduate high school. Now we’re adding pocketbook economics, which is part of the curriculum anyway. It’s a great kind of course for summer school, online and winter session — to entice kids with something different — but putting it in the regular 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. day means biology, English, math or history will suffer.”

Through Dec. 31, the committee reported receiving more than $5 million in in-kind contributions from Timothy Ranzetta, who sponsored the initiative. Ranzetta co-founded Next Gen Personal Finance, a nonprofit organization with a mission of ensuring that every U.S. high school student takes at least one semester-long personal finance course before graduation. 

From 2000 to 2023, including both odd and even-numbered years, an average of eight ballot measures related to education appeared on the ballot nationwide.

Click here to learn more about this measure. 

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! 

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

Today, we’re looking at survey responses from Gini Magnuson and Andrew Finch, two of the three candidates running in the May 14 nonpartisan primary for Omaha Public Schools Board of Education Subdistrict 5 in Nebraska. 

Incumbent Spencer Head, who was first elected in 2021, is also running in the election. He did not complete the Candidate Connection survey. 

Five seats on the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education are up for election this year. Omaha Public Schools is the largest district in Nebraska, with an estimated enrollment of 53,500 students. 

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

  • “Addressing and remediating the underlying reasons for our critical staffing shortage, including retaining and attracting our educational professionals.
  • Ensuring educational material is updated, robust, and meaningful.
  • Maintaining our fiscal soundness responsibly while also investing in ways to increase our value to the public.”

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

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

  • “Lifelong Nebraska who is dedicated to improving Nebraska Education System.
  • Passionate about improving Post Secondary preparedness to ensure all students succeed in life.
  • A strategic approach must be created to ensure retention of quality educators and the recruitment, training, and incentivizing of quality educators.

Click here to read the rest of Finch’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 more than 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.