Despite some momentum around the country to increase pay for local school board members—or to allow them to be compensated at all—at least 13 states explicitly ban the practice, according to an EdWeek analysis of state laws.
The debate about whether school board members should receive compensation for their time and expertise has gained traction in recent years as districts contemplate how to develop more diverse slates of candidates for these influential seats.
In 2023 alone, two states—Kansas and Mississippi—codified school board compensation in state law, allowing members of local boards to receive pay for their work, according to the EdWeek analysis.
The Denver school board earlier this month voted 6-1 to approve a salary increase for future board members, from $8,250 to $33,000 per year, the maximum allowed under Colorado law. In doing so, a board member cited a need to “remove barriers that prevent a school board that looks like and reflects” the student body, Chalkbeat Colorado reported.
Even the Denver board’s ability to pay its members was a recent development. The state law allowing school board members to be paid only passed in 2021.
Lawmakers in Illinois are also considering a change to state law that would allow school board members in Chicago to be paid as the schools in that city shift from a fully mayor-appointed board to a fully elected one in the coming years.
While the drive to pay school board members has happened in hopes of attracting members who are more representative of the communities they represent—both racially and socioeconomically—no research has been conducted to test whether compensation is effective in attracting more diverse candidates or in improving board members’ ability to manage districts, according to education researchers.
Still, advocates argue that the amount of time members spend working on board duties—preparing for and attending meetings, going to community events, and more—is evidence enough that they should be compensated. Many board members say their duties are equivalent to a full-time job.
Many states that do allow board members to be paid have an explicit cap on pay, whether it’s a set amount per meeting, defined daily pay, or a maximum annual salary. In some cases, the maximum pay is low. In Oklahoma, for example, the cap is $25 per board meeting for up to four meetings per month, and only for districts with an average daily attendance of at least 15,000. In Michigan, the cap is $30 per meeting for up to 52 meetings per year, which translates to a maximum of $1,560 annually. In Tennessee, school board members must be paid at least $4 per day of work.
California is home to likely the highest paid school board members: In Los Angeles, board of education members receive an annual salary of $125,000 if they do not have other employment, and $50,000 if they hold another job. State statute in California sets a maximum of $60 per month for small districts with fewer than 150 students, but salaries are set by municipalities for larger districts.
Neither Arizona nor Rhode Island has a state law allowing or restricting school board members’ pay.
The EdWeek analysis of state laws defined compensation as any pay for performing school board duties beyond reimbursement for expenses.