Do You Know Who’s Running Your School Board?

By Sheryl Poe, Senior Writer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Local school boards play a critical role in shaping the direction of U.S. education reform. Yet low voter turnout and frequent member turnover means that school boards can be largely dominated by special interests, such as vendors seeking district contracts, employee unions, and single-issue advocacy groups who have their own agendas. And those agendas do not include improving your child’s education or the development of a strong American workforce.

It’s up to the business community to get involved. Business leaders – whether as individuals or operations through organizations such as local chambers of commerce, foundations, or public education funds – can play a critical role in supporting effective school board governance and reforms that improve student achievement.

The U.S. Chamber’s Institute for A Competitive Workforce has released a new report that takes a closer look at how school boards work. The School Board Case Studies highlights 13 diverse communities—ranging from high performing boards in Austin, Texas, and Long Beach, California, and struggling boards in Dayton, Ohio, and Seattle, Washington—and examines how school boards function. The goal is to better understand the importance of making school boards more accountable, effective, and focused on the needs of students.

“Local school boards hire district leadership, oversee school budgets, negotiate collective bargaining agreements with teachers unions, and set policies on a wide range of issues,” said Margaret Spellings, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Forum for Policy Innovation. “All of these decisions have real consequences for how effectively and efficiently school systems serve students and the public good.”

Spellings, along with report author Andrew Rotherham of Bellwether Education Partners, spoke at a May 15 event unveiling the report.

The first step is getting to know who is on your school board and what their motivations are. In September, ICW released a non-partisan school board candidate questionnaire. The questionnaire allows voters, editorial boards, and other stakeholders to gauge the views and knowledge of school board candidates.

Read the individual case studies:

Atlanta, Georgia

Austin, Texas

Bismarck, North Dakota

Dayton, Ohio

Denver, Colorado

Detroit, Michigan

Duval County, Florida

Laramie, Wyoming

Long Beach, California

Los Angeles, California

Newark, New Jersey

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Seattle, Washington