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Ballotpedia staff

Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #89

Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter written to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues: The debate over the use of affinity groups in schools 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Republicans won 59% of all Pennsylvania school board seats up for election on Nov. 7
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!

On the issues: The debate over the use of affinity groups in schools

In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues school board members deliberate when they set out to offer the best education possible in their district. Missed an issue? Click here to see the previous education debates we’ve covered.

In the context of public education, affinity groups refer to small cohorts or classes designed for students—and in some cases teachers and staff—of similar social or racial backgrounds. For example, some school districts have established affinity groups for Black students to share their experiences with other Black students.

Tammy Hodo writes that affinity groups offer Black students safe spaces to share their experiences and discuss racism. Hodo says people of color should have a place where they can receive support without having to justify their experiences and feelings to white peers.  

David Bernstein, Ye Zhang Pogue, and Brandy Shufutinsky write that affinity groups harmfully divide students. They say such groups promote race as fundamental to students’ identities and institutionalize segregation. They also say it is not the role of schools to promote race-based ideologies or facilitate conversations about race, oppression, or student identity.

Affinity groups facilitate difficult conversations | Tammy Hodo, Florida Times-Union

“As a social scientist and subject matter expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion, I know affinity groups are standard practice and create a safe space.… It is not the job of Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), particularly teens, to educate their peers about the emotional toll of racism. … Reality is that if we have not learned anything in the last few years it is that America has not gone through racial reconciliation. We must begin to have these uncomfortable conversations as this younger generation is demanding it and rightfully so. They will be heard, and ideally, we want to create a productive safe space for them to share their truths.”

Stop Dividing Children By Race. It’s Harmful and Divisive | David Bernstein, Ye Zhang Pogue, and Brandy Shufutinsky, Newsweek

“[T]he majority of segregated affinity groups are exercises in indoctrination. Racial affinity groups may differ, but the majority of them task kids with ‘owning’ their level of ‘privilege’ or ‘complicity,’ based on where they fall on a hierarchy of racial privilege. … [T]hese exercises force children to identify in ways that may be uncomfortable and inconsistent with their personal identities. What if a child chooses not to identify as a specific race? Who is the school to say that a child needs to be racialized at all? … Finally, these affinity group exercises are manifestly bad for race relations. They reinforce a racially essentialist vision of American society and foment division through institutionalized segregation.”

School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications

In 2023, Ballotpedia covered elections for over 9,000 school board seats in more than 3,000 districts across 34 states. We’re expanding our coverage each year with our eye on the more 13,000 districts with elected school boards. 

Election results from the past week

On Dec. 12, voters recalled four of the six members of the Sargent Public Schools Board of Education in Nebraska. Laura Kipp, Tammera Moody, Loyd Pointer, and Marty Riddle were on the ballot. 

Nebraska was one of 10 states where we covered all school board elections this year. The Sargent Public Schools recall was one of six that went to the ballot in 2023.

The effort started after the four targeted board members voted to end principal Cory Grint’s contract in February 2023. The other two members voted to keep Grint on as principal. 

Jace Coslor filed the recall petitions, saying the board’s vote not to retain Grint was “unjust and illegal.” Coslor said the board members followed personal agendas and did not consult with the superintendent or the board’s legal counsel.

As of this writing, we have yet to identify any public responses to the effort by the officeholders named in the recall. 

The remaining board members will appoint replacements if one or two members are recalled. If more than two members are recalled, special elections will be held.

Sargent Public Schools is the 23rd largest district in the state, with 175 students as of 2022. Nationwide, 11,659 districts are larger than Sargent Public Schools. 

Ballotpedia has tracked 47 school board recall efforts against 92 board members this year. Stay tuned for our 2023 year-end recall report, which is coming soon. You can read our mid-year report here. In the first half of the year, we covered 149 recall efforts against 227 officials. That included efforts against 51 school board members. 

Republicans won 59% of all Pennsylvania school board seats up for election on Nov. 7

Last week, we took a deep dive into Nov. 7 school board election results in Colorado, looking at the endorsements data we collected and what it reveals about the ideological dynamics in the Centennial State’s officially nonpartisan races. We did a similar deep dive into Minnesota and Virginia elections in the Nov. 29 edition.

Today, we will continue our analysis with a look at election results in Pennsylvania—one of four states that hold partisan school board elections

We’ll continue publishing analyses on three additional states throughout December. You can follow along here

Read our full Pennsylvania analysis here. Three items of note from the report:

  • Republicans won 59% of all school board seats up for election on Nov. 7
  • Despite having party labels on the ballot, Pennsylvania’s results closely resemble those in states that hold nonpartisan school board elections.
  • Nearly half of elections were uncontested

Republicans won 59% of all school board seats up for election on Nov. 7—Democrats won 39%

Although candidates appear on the ballot with a party label, it isn’t always clear what that label means. The state’s election rules allow candidates to run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries in a process called cross-filing. Candidates who win both primaires appear on the general election ballot as Democratic/Republican. We used Pennsylvania’s publicly available voter registration information to get around that ambiguity.

Each of the state’s 500 school districts held at least one election (except for Philadelphia, where the mayor appoints school board members). Altogether, Pennsylvania held 1,059 school board elections for 2,611 (or 60%) of all 4,338 seats in the state.

The size of the Republican victory is due partly to geography and the distribution of voters. In the 499 districts that hold elections, registered Republicans are either a majority or plurality of voters in 355, while registered Democrats lead in the remaining 144.

Of the seats up for election, 1,856 (71%) were in Republican-leaning districts, and 755 (29%) were in Democratic-leaning districts.

Democratic candidates won 80% of the seats in Democratic districts and Republican candidates won 76% in Republican districts.

There was one Democratic district where only Republicans won: Chartiers Valley in the Pittsburgh area.

And there were nine Republican districts where only Democrats won, including two we were covering closely: Central Bucks and Pennridge. The others were Carlisle Area, Derry Township, Frazier, Manheim Township, Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley, and Unionville-Chadds Ford. 

Despite having party labels on the ballot, Pennsylvania’s results closely resemble those in states that hold nonpartisan school board elections

In both Oklahoma and South Dakota, our earlier analyses found that Democrats won most of the seats in Democratic districts and Republicans won most of those in Republican districts even though those candidates appeared on the ballot without any party labels.

Nearly half of elections were uncontested—lower than in Colorado, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin this year

One area where Pennsylvania broke from most other states we have analyzed so far this year is in the number of uncontested school board elections.

In Pennsylvania, 48% of seats were uncontested, or 1,258 seats. That’s a lower percentage than in Colorado, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin—the other states we’ve analyzed so far this year. In those states, between 52% and 79% of elections were uncontested.

Eighty-five seats were guaranteed to write-in candidates because there were fewer candidates on the ballot up for election. There were no candidates in 26 elections.

But just because a write-in candidate received the most votes doesn’t mean that person will assume office. In Pennsylvania, winning write-in candidates must indicate whether they want to hold that position. If a person declines, the seat becomes vacant.

Read more about endorsements in school board elections here

Extracurricular: education news from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

Today, we’re featuring survey responses from two of the five candidates who ran in the general election for Widefield School District 3 school board At-large in Colorado. Two seats were up for election. Tina West and Alvin Sexton were the only candidates to fill out the survey. 

West and Kelly Cutcher won the election, with each receiving 22.4% of the vote. Sexton received 17.9%. 

In 2022, 9,369 students enrolled in the Widefield School District 3. The district includes parts of Colorado Springs. 

Here’s how West answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“I am very passionate about restoring academic excellence as a priority in our district. Lately, ( 2020 ) there have been expenditures on things like DEI directors and staff trainings on “unconscious bias’ to the tune of over 450,000 dollars. Just let that sink in…. 450,000 dollars! Money that could have been used to improve test scores or buy books or playground equipment or needed upgrades to ailing schools and facilities…. instead it was wasted on our district’s attempt to join the national fray on a topic we know all too well…. DIVERSITY. Our district has, almost since its inception,been notoriously diverse. (Presumably due to its proximity to Ft.Carson.)The need to justify that to outside influences has taken away from our goal of educating every child the same and giving each child the best education we possibly can. It is more than disappointing that our previous board and Superintendent diverted from this mission and unapologetically squandered our money in such a reckless manner. The loss of this revenue and the lost time due to COVID, have only made it that much harder for our kids to become proficient in things like math and reading. Our kids deserve better than this! We need to turn away from the national fray and focus on doing things the way we always have;THE WIDEFIELD WAY. Doing this has served us well in the past and a return to it in all earnestness will do so again.”

Click here to read the rest of West’s responses. 

Here’s how Sexton answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“I am passionate about education and economic policy. I want to solve our problems without raising taxes and cultivating policies that allow students to thrive. No matter what issues that we are facing in schools, I am a firm believer that it starts with building an environment children can thrive in and money to fund it.”Click here to read the rest of Sexton’s responses.

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