Andrea Gabor: How to Help School Boards Resist Pressure Groups
Andrea Gabor writes at Bloomberg about how to push back against the attacks on school boards by anti-maskers, Proud Boys, and well-heeled reformers.
School boards are in the news again as culture-war battlegrounds and forums for public-school bashing. That’s good reason to make them stronger, not weaker or more fearful.
Boards are ground zero for conflicts over mask and vaccine mandates and curricular battles over U.S. racial history.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis withheld salaries from districts that voted to defy his ban on mask mandates, even as he encouraged parents to use new school-voucher laws to flee public schools for private and religious institutions. In Tennessee, health-care workers who advocated for mask mandates were threatened by a mob at a school board meeting. In Nashua, New Hampshire, the far-right Proud Boys crashed local school board meetings to protest teaching intended to combat racism. Already this year, there have been 64 recall efforts against school board members — far more than the previous two years combined.
Stronger boards could deal more effectively with the challenges facing public schools. Beyond that, they should become better equipped for their role as the institutions where many citizens first become civically engaged and run for local office.
Nearly half of American school boards are nonpartisan at a time of political tribalism. The boards — with 44% women and 28% Black or Latino members — are far more diverse than Congress. Yet even that representative arithmetic lags the school population, with over half of school children today members of minority groups. Some of the backlash against teaching lessons on race have occurred in districts with sizeable minority populations but all-White school boards.
A major challenge is to make boards more resilient against the agendas of myriad ideological groups by improving the know-how of school board members and by passing laws that increase voter participation and attract diverse local candidates.
Long before the Proud Boys invaded school board meetings, outside interests channeled hundreds of millions of dollars into national organizations that sought to control school boards. This effort was anything but local.