Parents need to know: What exactly is a school board?

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You may have heard about school boards in the news or social media — especially with the intense cultural debates happening in school board meetings lately. But how much do you know about what school boards actually do, and the role they play in your child’s education? 

School boards have power over the type of education kids receive, which is why groups of extremists have been putting unprecedented pressure on school boards to censor kids’ access to books, lessons, and classroom discussions about crucial topics and life skills.

So if you’re not familiar with school boards and how they can affect your child’s education, now is the time.

What is a school board?

Every school district has a school board. They help determine educational policy and administrative procedures for their specific districts. Typically, they share power with another institution like their local government or the state and federal departments of education, which can also make decisions that impact your child’s education.

Who makes up a school board?

School board sizes vary by district, but most boards have between 5 to 15 members. Each board has a top official who is nominated by the board or their district’s voters. Every board has a secretary and treasurer, and some school boards include non-voting student representatives. 

Members are elected via the residents of their local school districts, and they serve on a volunteer basis (typically for a fixed term length, such as two- or four-year terms). The amount of time can vary by state, and some states have legal term limits that restrict how long a board member can serve. In some cases, board members can be appointed by mayors, governors, or state superintendents.

How much power do school boards have, and what is their purpose?

School boards have a lot of power over the type of education kids receive, but they don’t control every aspect of how public schools work. Here are the primary roles of a school board:

  • Set the goals and priorities for the district, in collaboration with the Superintendent
  • Hire, manage and evaluate the Superintendent (and often approve the hiring or termination of school personnel, including teachers, support staff, and counselors)
  • Approve the budget (which can impact things like bussing and transportation, school improvements, making mental health services available, purchasing tech or educational materials, and more)
  • Write, pass, and monitor policy (for example, requiring dress codes or new grading systems, setting the school calendar, etc.)
  • Approve curriculum recommended by staff
  • Engage with constituents (that’s you!)

If you are thinking about attending a school board meeting or planning to share testimony, keep in mind that making your comments and requests relevant to the actual power of the Board will make it more meaningful and more likely to be heard and acted upon.

Why is it important to participate in school board meetings?

Our kids and our schools are in an unprecedented moment, as school boards face pressure to pass educational gag orders that censor classroom discussion and ban conversations about racism and inequality in our schools.

The fallout of this censorship effort continues to grow, and equity programs are being dropped by school districts, books by beloved authors and about important historical figures are getting banned, and even curriculum that teaches students critical skills — like communication and empathy — is being pulled from schools nationwide.

To ensure all kids are receiving a quality, honest education, parents and caregivers must use their voices to support kids and their futures and advocate for the affirming and supportive education system that every child deserves. Our School Board 101 session can help you get started in figuring out how to participate (you can see the recorded training below).

How can I get involved, even if I don’t have any experience?

We all care about our kids and want the best for them. The vast majority of parents don’t want extremists meddling in our kids’ education. 

To be an effective advocate, you have to know not just what you’re advocating for, but who to advocate to. Everyone deserves to know more about the place where many decisions are made that affect our kids — the school board.

In our free, virtual School Board 101 training on Tuesday, October 24, 2023, the experts from School Board School provided an overview of the role of a school board and the role of the administration so that you’ll know who to go to with your ideas, questions, and concerns. After watching this session you’ll feel more confident about how to approach your local decision makers!

If you’re ready to share your comments at a school board meeting, here’s one example of what to say:

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.