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How to Run for School Board: Book Censorship News, September 9, 2022

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Curious what it looks like to run for school board? Wondering if now is your time to step up and help provide governance for your local education system? Let’s dive in.

It’s no secret that school board elections right now are crucial. It’s also no secret that some school board candidates — even in nonpartisan elections — are being funded by right-wing political action committees to infuse the board with specific conservative agendas. Groups like Moms For Liberty run trainings across the country, hoping to get their agenda on the local level to further remove the voices of any non-white, non-straight, non-Christians from schools (and to help accelerate the process of destroying public school funding more broadly). While certainly these groups have money and people behind them, they do not speak on behalf of an entire community, and it is crucial that those with talent, passion, and an interest in serving all of a community, rather than a cherry-picked portion of it, put their name into the hat of serving on the local school board.

The following is applicable to most school boards in the US, but because no information is uniform across the country, spend a little time ensuring you know the steps and process for your municipality. Each state has an association of school boards, and those websites will be flush with updated information and insight into the rules specific to your location.

How To Run for School Board

Determining Eligibility and Time Commitment

  • Familiarize yourself with what school boards do. It might sound silly to say that, but it is vital to know what you may or may not be able to do with a role on the board.
  • Know when your next school board election is and how many seats will be up for election. Research the candidates in those seats currently to determine if you want to run against them or wait to run until another candidate’s seat is available. In some cases, you may see an open seat you want to run for, but your residency does not meet the boundaries of that seat. Some are district wide “at large,” meaning you represent the entire district and some come from specific limits within a community, meaning you’d represent a specific part of a community. (Note: you can access some school board information for eight states in the US with our School Board Project Part 1 and Part 2).
  • Make sure you are eligible to run. Every state is different, but in general, you must be 18, have no felony convictions, are not employed by the district for which you’re running, and you live in the district. Some states have educational requirements as well.
  • Prepare to volunteer — most school board positions are unpaid. School boards are, by design, inequitable and thus, those without financial strains have more ability to serve.
  • Know that you’ll spend 15-20 hours a month, if not more, doing school board related work. Some state school board associations clock that time much higher. School boards are, by design, inequitable and thus, those without work, family, or extracurricular strains have more ability to serve.

Qualities of Good School Board Candidates

Do some background reading into school boards and how they operate. This survey by the National School Boards Association, conducted in 2018, offers a broad look at the state of school boards. It is obviously different now, but the groundwork there is good for giving you insight into what makes a good candidate.

  • A strong commitment to the value, purpose, and goals of public education
  • Desire to ensure all students within a school are served as equitably as possible
  • Clear communication, desire to be transparent, and interest in hearing from all constituents within your area of representation
  • A sense of justice, fairness, and willingness to consider all sides of an issue before speaking or voting
  • Interest in leading, not managing, the district in its mission

Filing Paperwork to Declare Candidacy

Each and every state will be slightly different, and things might differ on a county-by-county basis. Check with your county elections clerk to ensure you file all appropriate paperwork on time.

Among the most common paperwork:

  • Official declaration of candidacy (which may include a filing fee)
  • Financial disclosures (to ensure you’re following campaign financing rules and avoiding conflicts of interest)
  • Criminal history
  • Nomination petitions

Running a Campaign

It is tricky to offer a play by play here because it differs by community. In some places, it’s still the case where getting candidates to run for school board is a challenge so you may be running uncontested. According to data from 2018 — which, we know this is a different time just a few years later — 75% of those who ran for school board spent $1000 or less. There is no question that in some areas, particularly where well-funded PACs and “parental rights” groups are pouring money into campaigns and candidates, it might cost a lot more.

Know what campaign finance requirements are in your state. Many of these bigger organizations get around having to talk about how they are funding candidates because of their status as a non-profit — and not all of these organizations have yet to file 990s which would open up some information about that.

Your state school board association will provide information as well. A few state specific samples:

The effort takes time and sometimes money. Get your name out there in person and online, and show you live the values you will bring to the board, including equity, care and commitment to the education of all students, and your belief in the power of public education. Take part in local candidate forums and be a staple at board meetings, even if you don’t speak.

It’s a lot of work, but it is yet another way to make a real impact on the lives of young people (and those who work with them or care about them). The more people who care about everyone in a community and desire to meet as many needs as possible through expanding education, rather than constricting it, the better the system flourishes and does precisely what it is meant to do.

Image that reads "how to run for school board," with bullet points of information distilled from the above-written text.

Book Censorship News: September 9, 2022

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