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In the States: Preparing for School Board Elections

The “In the States” feature by Kaitlyn Brennan is a weekly update to keep members informed on state-level activities impacting the education and educator preparation community.

Earlier this month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Chicago Mayoral races garnered national attention with some analysts suggesting the results could offer a gauge on voter issues heading into the 2024 Presidential election. However, across both states a slate of races that fell relatively under the radar were the highly contested and politicized school board seats. Roughly 30,000 school board elections will occur in more than two dozen states across the nation this year. National, conservative education groups have backed a number of candidates and have highly emphasized issues surrounding critical race theory, parental choice, and transgender students. Yet, following the April 4 election GOP backed candidates did not fare as well as their supporters had hoped. As reported in Politico, Ryan Girdusky, founder of the conservative 1776 Project political action committee said, “We lost more than we won.”

Democrats, for their part, are hopeful the early spring election cycle validates their playbook-affirming pro-public school messaging and ensuring protections for vulnerable and marginalized students.

Kim Anderson, executive director of the National Education Association, said:

“Where culture war issues were being waged by some school board candidates, those issues fell flat with voters…The takeaway for us is that parents and community members and voters want candidates who are focused on strengthening our public schools, not abandoning them.”

The Democratic Party of Illinois said 84 of 117 candidates the party recommended won their April 4 races. The Illinois Education Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association, said it won nearly 90% of the races where it endorsed candidates.

As a reminder, polling conducted by Hart Research Associates from December 12-17, 2022, among 1,502 registered voters nationwide, including 558 public school parents, showed that support for and trust in public schools and teachers remained strong:

  • 93% of respondents said improving public education is an important priority for government officials.
  • 66% said the government spends too little on education; 69% want to see more spending.
  • By 29 points, voters said their schools teach appropriate content, with an even greater trust in teachers.

In the same poll, voters suggest the most serious problems facing schools include the following:

  • teacher shortages;
  • inadequate funding;
  • unsafe schools; and
  • pandemic learning loss