While it may seem as if the power to influence education policy rests in the hands of state or federal lawmakers, what happens in your child’s classroom is largely dictated by leaders in your community school—namely, your school board.
Your local school board implements educational and operational policies for the district, from curriculum standards to how teachers must conduct day-to-day classroom instruction. School boards are also tasked with approving the district’s annual budget. In other words, your school board makes vital decisions about how your child is educated and how taxpayer dollars are spent within the district.
Every school district in the country has a board of education, and nationwide, school board members make up the country’s largest group of elected officials. As elected officials, the school board has a responsibility to represent the public’s interest and act in the interest of its community.
What do school boards do?
The responsibilities of school boards are broad and vary by community, but generally speaking, their work falls into three main categories: academics and policies for students, budgets and board governance, and curriculum.
Academics and Curriculum:
- Academics: School boards have the authority to direct the superintendent to provide detailed reports on student academic performance. A school board needs this data to make informed decisions about resource allocation, teacher and staff professional development, hiring, and strategic planning. School boards are tasked with implementing or creating curriculum in schools.
- Curriculum: School boards play the biggest role in determining what your child learns in the classroom. Most school boards in most states have the responsibility to determine curriculum and academic standards for their district. Even in the handful of states where the state department of education determines curriculum and academic standards, the authority for implementing the curriculum. This typically includes selecting textbooks and other learning materials.
In recent years, school boards have sought to overhaul history curriculum and cut accelerated math and science classes under the guise of “equity” and “anti-racism,” or to advance their own political agendas. Parents and the community at large should be proactively informed about the school board’s educational goals and curriculum.
Questions that arise from parents should be answered fully and without delay or obfuscation. Encountering pushback, or less than fulsome answers, should cue a parent to ask for a lot more details about what is being taught, how it is being taught, and why the students are learning the selected curriculum.
- School boards make policies that dictate everything from grading practices to school discipline to whether schools will open or close during a pandemic. Board members dictate operational policies as well—policies that cover human resources issues like hiring, termination, paid time off, and building maintenance.
Budgets and Board Governance:
- Budgets: School boards determine how money is allocated by creating a budget. School district budgets are usually created by a school superintendent, administrators, and school employees. Once that process is finalized, a budget is proposed to the school board for approval.
Estimates for annual spending on K-12 education range from $700 to $800 billion dollars—and American schools spent an average of $15,000 per pupil in 2022. This money comes from federal, state, and local taxes. Concerned parents and taxpayers have every right to know how their school board spends that money.
- Board Governance: School boards decide how to spend their time. Some meeting parameters are established at the state level, generally the board decides when they will meet, how long they will meet, and what is on their agenda. A glance at a school board’s website and upcoming agendas should give you a good idea of the board’s priorities.
How to hold your school board accountable
If a local school board does not appear to be governing or functioning in a transparent way, parents and community have a right to demand clarity and accountability.
Accountability can be sought in a variety of ways. Members of the public can participate in comment periods during school board meetings, submit written questions or requests for an open town hall to a school board member, or file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. A school board should also have procedures in place to ensure that FOIA requests (or whatever version of a FOIA exists in your state) are fulfilled on-time and in accordance with the law, with the greatest transparency and least expense to the public as possible.
A school board should post relevant agendas and documents for the public well in advance of meetings and adhere to open meetings (or “sunshine”) laws, as applicable, by making decisions in public
The ultimate form of accountability is nominating and electing school board members who reflect the community’s values and priorities for education, or even recalling those board members who choose to defy the wishes and interests of parents and students.
Questions to raise with school board members
As mentioned, school boards address topics that fall under policies and budgets, so anything that falls into those categories may be raised with your local school board. PDE Action focuses on fighting indoctrination in the classroom, and our specific research and advocacy areas are Gender Ideology, Social Emotional Learning, Ethnic Studies, and Private Schools.
When you raise an issue with your school board, make sure that it is specific and actionable and that you have a clear example of what happened.