Could sharing political affiliations help public school boards?

in November 10th, 2021

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Mask mandates, to teach or not teach about race — these have been the controversial debates raging at public school boards all pandemic long. Now, one state is trying to get to the core of what drives these beliefs: political party affiliations.

Tennessee recently approved a proposal allowing schools to include school board candidates’ political party affiliation on the ballot, meaning their names would also be marked as Republican, Independent, or Democrat. Proponents believe such transparency would:

  • Give voters more concrete information about candidates. Some claim that voters have historically relied on ethnicity or gender assumptions based on the candidate’s name. Showing political affiliation would instead help them make a decision based on their ideals.
  • Remove the facade that school boards are apolitical (not involved in politics), arguing that government philosophies are often core to school budget or curriculum decisions.
  • Help reform what has historically been a popularity contest that has led to a disproportionate share of school board members being White, even though the majority of U.S. public school students are not.

Meanwhile, those against the bill worry that making candidates explicitly mark their political party would escalate political tensions and increase the expense of campaigning (and thereby discourage some from participating). Ohio law even explicitly omits party affiliations from school board ballots.

The proposal comes amidst a nationwide spike in school board recalls, as well as more threats directed at school board members. Heated debates around reopening plans, gender identity, and more have led community members to act out and even scream at officials. Question is, will transparent political affiliation help?

🎬 Take Action

Is your state suffering from a high instance of school board recalls? Check out Ballotpedia’s handy map highlighting to find out and learn if you have any current voting occurring.

Resource Center:

  • Chalkbeat (Where we found this story) 12 days old | 6 minutes long
  • Fordham Institute Data for bipartisan school boards 2 months old | 6 minutes long
  • Brookings Worsening school board issues 10 days old | 9 minutes long
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