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School & District Management Opinion

School Board Elections Are Often Overlooked. They Shouldn’t Be

By Charlie Wilson — October 27, 2020 3 min read
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While much of the media attention during this election cycle has been on the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn, and race relations, keep in mind that all three issues affect education. The combined crises we’re experiencing and the drastically different approaches taken by our political parties serve as a reminder that leadership matters and that your vote can shape every aspect of our children’s educational journeys.

Our civic duty should be exercised more than just every four years when the presidency hangs in the balance. There are countless local and school board elections that too often go unnoticed. Whether or not you have school-age children, the impact of school boards is felt throughout your communities—including in municipal budgets and property taxes. So many important decisions are made at the local level that affect our daily lives, and you have the power to influence those decisions.

More than 14,000 school boards across the country are responsible for overseeing and managing everything from how students are transported to school to what they will learn in the classroom. And many of these boards are made up of elected officials—officials that answer to voters and depend on your vote.

When you vote in the coming days—whether in person or by mail—consider what you want the future of education to look like."

While we often focus on high-profile elections, many school boards face low turnout, empty board seats, and uncontested candidates. In 2019, one Virginia district had three candidates run unopposed for re-election to their respective seats. That same year in Los Angeles County, only 8.7 percent of eligible voters participated in the local school board election. And in a 2017 race in Iowa, just 498 voters—or 10 percent of registered voters—decided the race for school board members.

School boards are the bedrock of American democracy, and the concept of a free, public education system has its roots in the founding of this nation.

When you vote in the coming days—whether in person or by mail—consider what you want the future of education to look like. Consider the impact on your families and children when you assess your preferred candidates’ values.

In a typical election year, education is usually glossed over in a party platform or may be an overlooked topic on the debate stage—rarely front and center as it has been in recent discussions about back-to-school safety amid COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed long-standing disparities and expanded inequities that have gone generations without being sufficiently addressed or resolved. School privatization, teacher pay, student civil rights, digital inequity stemming from a lack of adequate broadband and devices, and school safety are all on the ballot this election cycle.

Ultimately, these issues affect each student and eventually pass through every classroom. And all of them will need to be decided at all levels of government: federal, state, and local. But now is your chance to have a say in what the future of education will look like. As citizens, we have the power to speak up and become advocates for meaningful change through the ballot box.

The pandemic has proven that leadership at every level of education matters, whether that’s in the White House or on your local school board. And yes, this leadership is crucial during tumultuous times, like global pandemics and economic recessions, but it’s also vital in the everyday, regular work of educating our nation’s more than 50 million public school students.

As we head into the final stretch of this long campaign, remember that participation is key to a working democracy. Remember to vote in your local school board elections and consider how you can get more involved in your district. It can be something as easy as helping out a school board candidate’s campaign or something as ambitious as running your own. Even the simplest things, like attending a school board meeting, make a tremendous difference.

Our children’s access to quality education—and to the tools that will help them succeed—are in your—the voters’—hands. This year and every year after, let’s take the next step and make our voices heard.

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