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From Classrooms to Ballots: Unpacking the Significance of School Boards in the 2024 Elections

In the upcoming 2024 election, more than 20,000 school board seats will be up for grabs, coinciding with the presidential race. These positions wield significant influence over local education budgets, curriculum decisions, and the hiring and firing of school leaders. Alarmingly, a substantial percentage of these seats are expected to remain uncontested, ranging from 25-50%. This concerning trend underscores the urgent need for to recruit quality candidates to run for school boards. 

Across states like South Carolina to Florida, local school boards are actively involved in banning books, removing school leaders committed to equity, and imposing limitations on classroom teachers, preventing them from teaching an accurate and honest portrayal of the United States' history. These actions reflect a concerted campaign to wrest control over America's classrooms away from the educators who are directly responsible for shaping the minds of future generations. 

For advocates committed to educational equity, the 2024 school board races present a crucial opportunity to address longstanding challenges in our public education system. By actively participating in these elections, equity warriors can reshape the composition of local school boards, especially in underserved and under-resourced communities. What is more, too few discussions are held about the cultivation of school board candidates. While much of the candidate cultivation talk has revolved around the presidential election and protecting our broader democratic values, an opportunity exists to connect these issues, as many are using school boards to attack our democracy, and we need to right candidates running for school board to counter those attacks on democracy.Dr. Phelton MossDr. Phelton Moss

To counter this trend, it is imperative to launch comprehensive initiatives to attract, recruit, and nurture strong candidates committed to equity. These initiatives should be interconnected with broader voter engagement efforts, forming a crucial part of our democracy's preservation. One group, Moms for Liberty, founded in 2021, supports political candidates, including an active focus on school board races aligned with their mission. However, their approach does not align with the broader vision of equity advocates striving to create an inclusive educational system. Civil rights and equity-oriented organizations must respond to such efforts by identifying their own candidates.

Organizations like Run for Something have emerged as essential players in recruiting and training candidates dedicated to equity and social justice. However, the burden of countering the well-funded and extremist initiatives of groups such as Moms for Liberty cannot rest solely on the shoulders of a few organizations. Collaborative and widespread efforts are necessary to combat these challenges effectively.

Over the past decade, the focus of education policy change through deliberate advocacy has shifted, leaving educators with limited opportunities to effect meaningful change. While efforts to reform schools and districts have focused on various aspects such as increased funding, teacher and leader training, and curriculum enhancements, the crucial task of identifying and supporting candidates for local school boards has been overlooked. That reality must be changed today, given the immense power local school boards hold.

To address this growing trend, education advocates must begin by:

1. Attracting Equity-Minded Candidates: Actively seek out individuals who are dedicated to promoting equity in education. Encourage those passionate about social justice and educational fairness to step forward and participate in the electoral process by running for their local school board.

2. Training Equity-Minded Candidates to Run for Office: Provide comprehensive training programs to equip potential candidates with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the complexities of running for office. Empower them with tools for effective communication, policy understanding, and community engagement.

3. Providing Financial Support for Equity-Minded Candidates: Ensure these candidates have access to adequate financial resources. Support their campaigns to level the playing field and enable them to compete effectively, even against well-funded opponents, by helping them to tap into equity-minded funders.

4. Engaging in Ongoing Professional Learning and Support for Candidates Post Election: Continuous learning and support are essential. Offer ongoing professional development opportunities, mentorship, and resources to elected candidates. This support ensures they remain well-informed, resilient, and capable of driving positive change within their local school district.

By focusing on these critical strategies, we can foster a new generation of leaders who are dedicated to creating an equitable and inclusive educational environment for all children. The 2024 school board elections provide a unique chance to steer our education system in the right direction, and we must seize this opportunity to benefit our students and communities alike.

Dr. Phelton Cortez Moss is a senior professorial lecturer of education policy and leadership in the School of Education at American University and a fellow for education innovation at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

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