EducationNC (EdNC) recently reported: “In 2015, out of 115 school districts, only 16 local boards of education in North Carolina were chosen on a partisan basis. Now, there are 39.”
Why is the state apparently moving away from nonpartisan elections of school board members?
This development doesn’t appear to be something that parents, teachers or students are pushing for. Could the driving force be politics?
(EdNC is headquartered in Raleigh and professes to be an independent organization for the dissemination of education-related information. EdNC is supported by foundation grants, corporate contributions, individual contributions and earned revenue.)
EdNC’s Senior Reporter Alex Granados talked to Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh-based conservative think tank. Stoops said that having partisan school board elections “isn’t such a bad thing.”
“We can’t assume that a voter is going to have knowledge of the candidates before he/she casts a vote,” Stoops said. “The partisan designation simply provides the information that most voters” would find helpful “before they enter the voting booth.”
“I think there is an acknowledgement that members of school boards have allegiances that align with one of the political parties,” Stoops commented. “I’ll even go as far as to say that it’s a fantasy to believe that political parties are not involved in the races” for local school board seats in nonpartisan elections.
Bob Luebke of the Civitas Institute in Raleigh, another conservative think tank organization, has written extensively on this subject. He commends conservative lawmakers at all levels for focusing on the composition of school boards.
“Education is often the largest expenditure for state and local governments,” Luebke said. “Local school board members make decisions that impact how our children are educated. Few local positions are as consequential.”
“Conservatives should be actively involved in school board elections,” Luebke advised. “One of the most important reasons relates to the fundamental questions that the educational process seeks to answer. What values will we embrace? How should we live together? Education is an inherently philosophical and political activity.”
“If conservatives are truly concerned about influencing society, they must get serious about getting involved with institutions that shape the next generation.”
“Where is the outrage over the poor performance of our students? Only 30% of public-school students in grades 3 through 8 tested proficient or above in both math and English in 2018-19 – and the percentages for minorities are even lower,” he said.
Luebke added: “Our public schools should be the model for how self-governance works. It hasn’t. If we hope to correct these mistakes and restore balance to our schools, conservatives must embrace these challenges, point out the failures...and offer a better way.”
Granados also interviewed Jack Hoke, executive director of the N.C. School Superintendents’ Association, in Raleigh. Hoke expressed reservations that “politics can create complications.”
“I think there’s a potential for a partisan board to prioritize a goal of the party that might not be in line with the district’s educational priorities,” Hoke said.
Stu Egan teaches English courses at West Forsyth High School in Clemmons. He is an outspoken blogger on education issues. He wrote:
“Yes, public education is political. But it does not have to be partisan.”
“Yet, in the last few years, more and more local school board elections are becoming partisan races steering school systems by a GPS system based on political dogma and controlled in Raleigh rather than what is best for the local school system,” Egan asserted.
Is it possible to meet in the middle?