Why School Boards Matter

On Saturday, May 4, San Antonians will elect (or re-elect) school board members in seven local districts- Alamo Heights ISD, Harlandale ISD, Judson ISD, Northside ISD, San Antonio ISD, Southside ISD, and Southwest ISD. These races are unlikely to drive the most people to the polls, but they may be among the most important.

School board elections often seem like the stuff of parody--small town, small time politics where a handful of votes can separate obviously qualified candidates from almost humorously unqualified candidates.

We often hear about the lack of civic engagement when it comes to voting for state legislators, mayors, and members of city councils. We hear people tell us that their vote doesn’t matter. Municipal elections lack drama, and that there are only so many things people can invest time in.

Knowing who sits on the school board sometimes seems like the kind of civic trivia reserved for journalists and political nerds, but it’s not. It’s vitally important.

Quick: when was the last time you decided what city you would live in based on the quality of its council?

Now, when was the last time you decided what house to buy because of the quality of its neighborhood schools?

School boards are, in almost every case, the elected body closest to voters. It’s rare that what happens in Washington DC, or even Austin has as much impact on a person’s daily life as the decisions of a local school board.

Washington DC, Austin, and San Antonio don’t have the power to decide what time your family gets up in the morning, what time you need to leave work to pick up children, or even when you will take your summer vacation… but school boards do.

School boards approve calendars and policies developed by the schools your children attend. Under current Texas state law, school boards ultimately decide when, how, and if kids should learn about sex, drugs, world religions and cultures. They have very much to do with how civil rights are taught, and whether schools can ban certain books.

School boards can open up new schools that offer arts, CTE, International Baccalaureate,

They can also close schools where students are not getting the education they deserve. They can act quickly to get those students into a place where that will be remedied, they can invite innovative models into the classroom or stifle them before they get off the ground.

Most importantly, they decide where most of your property tax dollars are spent and they determine the quality of the only adult who will spend as much time with your children as you.

In addition to the very real impact school boards have on your present, they also have a harder-to-trace, but still real, effect on our future.

School boards have a lot to do with the quality of the education children receive, and how equitably that education is delivered. When school boards micromanage educators, students suffer. Their schools aren’t as nimble and able to meet the needs of individual students.

When school boards misallocate funds, students don’t have access to the tools they need. When school boards reject student-focused efforts in favor of political maneuvering, students are not only left without the best resources, but they implicitly get the message that their voices don’t matter. On the flip side, when school boards make smart, student-centered, data-based decisions, they open a world of possibilities for students and communities.

Highly functional school boards are often boring. They make evidence-based decisions, and those decisions are often unanimous. It’s not that they all agree ideologically on every point--it’s that they are all able to evaluate the evidence with clear eyes and a same shared priority: what will move students toward the best outcomes?

It’s pretty rare that there’s not a clear answer to that question.

As the people who elect them, voters need to do their homework too. We need to take our job seriously and get to the polls. If you aren’t sure who is running for your school board, you can find your ballot information here.

Looking for more information on the local school board elections? Check out these great resources:

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