Parents, Not Politicians, Should Oversee School Systems

American school boards have become ideological battlegrounds, which is unfortunate.  Most parents will agree that education is the mission of schools, not political indoctrination or social engineering.

Confrontations between parents and school boards have occurred in various states over the teaching of racial and gender ideologies perceived by many parents as radical or inappropriate.

The response, particularly the banning of critically acclaimed or culturally important literature, is also viewed as extreme by many parents.

It should be no surprise that school boards are politicized, because school board members are politicians. And that’s a big part of the problem.

No school district anywhere exemplifies the radical capture of a school board, and parental alienation from their own children’s education, more than the high-profile case of Loudoun County, Virginia, where a male student, identifying as transgender, raped a female student in a school bathroom. The school district’s casual response to the event set off waves of protests. Police were called against the victim’s angry father, not his daughter’s assailant, who remained in school.

Loudoun County’s ideologically-driven school board appeared hopelessly out of step with the wishes of the parents and needs of students it was supposed to educate and protect.

The Loudoun County school board remains subject to capture by teachers’ interests and radical ideology because its electoral districts are so big.

The Loudoun County School board consists of 9 members elected every 4 years. Eight members are elected from districts of 50,000 to 54,000 residents each, and one member is elected at large out of the county’s population of 421,000 people.

Loudoun County is not alone in having overly large school board electoral districts. The state of Florida, which prides itself on resisting “woke” radicalization of schools, has the least representative school boards in the country. Miami-Dade County has one school board member per almost 300,000 residents!

For several reasons, such large electoral districts readily produce elected officials who are unrepresentative of their own constituents.

First, in a large electoral district, a school board member will be virtually unknown to the vast majority of voters. Without any effective media coverage, which is now typical in local elections, extremist candidates can easily slip under radar and get elected. Parents won’t know until it’s too late.

Second, in a large electoral district, significant campaign money must be raised for political campaign marketing, and that money usually comes from ideological or self-interested sources, like teachers’ unions.

Third, the bigger the district, the more likely that the elected official is an ambitious politician, who may have a personal and political agenda that is at odds with those of parents. The politician board member may be more responsive to funders and the politically connected than to the real needs of students.

The Solution: Parent-Controlled School Boards

Imagine a Parents’ Assembly* for each of our school districts. Let’s say each high school and middle school community annually elected two parents, and each elementary school elected one parent, to this Parents’ Assembly.

The members of the Parents’ Assembly would in turn elect, out of their own body, five or seven school board members, who would serve much as they do now.

Parents could be firmly in control, not politicians.

The process would begin with a notice to parents every September, that it’s time to choose parent-representatives to serve in a volunteer district-wide Parents’ Assembly. Each candidate would be required to be a parent or guardian of a child enrolled at that particular school.

Parents are notified about candidate forums at their child’s school and are sent written statements by each candidate prior to the elections of Parents’ Assembly members.

Importantly, these Parents’ Assembly representatives would likely be known within their school communities. They might work on PTAs, coach sports teams, or be seen each morning at the bus stop. They would be known to many other parents personally, and if not, they would be only one or two degrees of separation from every other parent in their local school community. Most often, they would be chosen based on a combination of their views on education issues and their own personal reputations. Money and political marketing would play very little, if any, role.

The Parents’ Assembly would then convene to choose a School Board of 5 or 7 out of their own members, ensuring that every School Board member is a parent with at least one child in the public school system. The new parent-driven school boards could have the same legal roles and financial compensation as current school boards.

The selection of the School Board by the Parents’ Assembly would ideally be more like a job application, featuring resumes, written statements and interviews, rather than a political campaign. The School Board would serve at the pleasure of the Parents’ Assembly, which would have the power of removing any and all School Board members at any time.

The Parents’ Assembly could be more or less involved in overseeing the district school system, depending on the community, its needs, and its wishes.

First, the Parents’ Assembly’s role could be restricted to what is described above.

For a second and more innovative option, the Parents Assembly could act as a legislature for the school system, with the school board serving as the executive branch. The Parents’ Assembly could be empowered to approve school budgets, curriculum and textbook changes, and security procedures. Committees could be formed out of the Parents Assembly to study subjects ranging from STEM programs to civics teaching, to transgenderism.

The critical point, and benefit, is that parents, rather than political, ideological, or other special interests, could oversee the local educational systems on which the future of their children depends.

*In cases where school boards cannot be limited legally to just parents, (which is probably true everywhere without state constitutional changes) we are calling a similar body a Greater School Board.

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