We Need to Make People Care About School Board Elections

Key issues in school board races are bullying, gun safety, teacher funding, comprehensive sex ed, and how to best pay and support teachers and educators, Litman continues. Despite all that hangs in the balance, there have been challenges in generating money and excitement for these races with the general public. “Part of it is that these races are really hard to identify,” she explains. “There are upwards of 80,000 school board positions across the country, and 21,000 on the ballot. Half of those have elections in November. In some places they are countywide, in some places they are citywide, and in some places they are broken down by elementary school versus high school.”

Litman adds, “This is, in part, a good thing, because every community gets to decide how they govern their own education system, but it also makes it tough to run and promote a campaign.”

One of the more exciting recent school board election victories was Shiva Rajbhandari’s, a high school student from Boise, Idaho. Rajbhandari’s opponent was endorsed by the Idaho Liberty Dogs, a conservative group, who, among other things, have promoted book bannings. “I really do firmly believe that student representation matters and that students belong anywhere decisions are being made about education,” Rajbhandari tells Teen Vogue. “Without students in positions of power, we are not going to get the representation we deserve. I’m determined to show just how much we can bring to the table when we’re given a seat.”

Rajbhandari is one of many students getting involved in their school board: According to 2021 data from the National School Boards Association, 67 out of the 495 largest school districts in the country, about 14%, have students serving on their boards. In August, Florida students in the organization Gen Z for Change helped unseat Jill Woolbright, a prominent conservative board member who rose to fame for her efforts to remove the genderqueer author George M. Johnson’s memoir, All Boys Aren’t Blue, from school libraries. 

The victory over Woolbright is particularly important for Florida, where over a dozen school board elections will take place in November, many centered on the rights of LGBTQ students. In September, the Miami-Dade school board rejected a proposal that would have recognized October as LGBTQ history month, stating that this would violate the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. In July, a former law enforcement official running for a school board position in Santa Rosa County, Florida, stated that doctors who provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth should be hanged.

In the face of this sort of bigotry, candidates across the country say they are fighting for students’ best interests. “For everyone who thought they couldn’t be in the room where decisions are made because of the color of their skin, how old they are, or any other reason,” says Gothard, “we’re hoping to prove that there’s no reason that those most impacted by the state of public education can’t have decision-making power in schools.”

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