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School Board Elections

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Written by Dr. Madeleine Roberts
Published on March 11, 2024
Research Highlights

The 518 MO school boards are filled by local nonpartisan elections.

The timing of filing deadlines and election dates for school board candidates varies significantly between states.

Most school board elections are held between nonpartisan candidates.

County school board election procedures vary across states and localities.

There are 13,194 school districts in the U.S., with 82,423 school board members (NCES 2023). The majority of members are elected to their positions, with the exception of HI and some localities in IN. HI only has an appointed State School Board and some localities in IN are filled by appointment. In MO, the 518 school boards are filled by local election (NCES 2023).

The procedures for running for a school board seat vary significantly by state, and in many cases by locality. Oftentimes, there are different procedures for county, city, and state school board elections.

Localities often have some control over local elections:

  • Municipalities with “home rule” are allowed to set different procedures from the rest of the state.
  • Some states allow localities to choose from several sets of deadlines and election dates.
  • In some states, all municipal governments retain “home rule” and run school board elections independently of the state.

In all cases, nominating documents must be submitted to state or local election officials by a certain deadline. The time between the declaration of candidacy deadline and the election varies widely between states: from 1 month to 1 year in advance of the general election (Figure 1).

  • In MO, candidates submit candidacy documents to the Secretary of State by December 26, for next year’s spring election.

The date set by a state as the school board election date varies by state and locality:

  • 22 states group school board and other local candidates on the fall General Election ballot with other national and state candidates.
  • 14 states set other local election dates, 12 in the spring or summer and 2 in the fall.
  • 10 states leave this decision entirely to localities.
  • 5 states may run partisan primaries prior to the general election.

The impact of partisan school board elections is unclear.

In 41 states including MO, school board races occur between candidates that do not declare a partisan affiliation. AL, CT, LA, and PA have partisan school board candidates, and 5 additional states have districts that use both systems.

There is movement towards running partisan races. In 2021, TN enacted legislation to allow school board elections to be optionally partisan and allow political parties to nominate candidates, where races were previously nonpartisan. A current FL ballot measure seeks to require partisan school board elections, and within states that use both systems, more localities are choosing to run partisan races (Personal communication).

Holding partisan elections tends to benefit the majority party (Schaffner 2007). Without the partisan “cue” on the ballot, voters tend to rely on incumbency in their voting decisions (Schaffer 2001). A study of the partisanship of school board members could not find evidence that those elected on a nonpartisan ballot were any less partisan than those elected on partisan ballots (Crawford 2018).

Local election timing impacts turnout.

Local elections tend to be held on days other than National Election Day (Wood 2022). Local election dates vary significantly. and can either be during state and national election years (on-cycle) or held during off-years (off-cycle).  When local elections are held on the same day as state and national contests, turnout is higher, sometimes doubled (MIT Election Lab 2022, Hajnal 2021, Kogan 2018, Anzia 2013). Additionally, the voters that turn out are more diverse in race, age, and partisanship (Hajnal 2021).

Figure 1. The time between the state’s deadline for a local school board candidate to turn in required candidacy declaration documents and their election day varies. The left edge of each box is that state’s candidacy document deadline, and the right edge is school board election day. In the states that also have a primary election, the thick black line in the middle of the box marks the primary date. NE has two filing deadlines, for incumbents and non-incumbents, shown with the dotted lines. States not shown do not have statewide school board candidate filing dates or elections because localities set their election days and filing deadlines (AR, AZ, CA, MA, MD, ME, SC, SD, TX, WA), do not have local school boards (HI), or the information was not available (VA, RI, CT).

 

References

Anzia, S. (2013) How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups. University of Chicago Press. https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/T/bo16956602.html

Crawford E (2018) How Nonpartisan Ballot Design Conceals Partisanship: A Survey Experiment of School Board Members in Two States. Political Research Quarterly, 71(1), 143–156. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26600456

Hajnal ZL, Kogan V, & Markarian GA (2021) Who Votes: City Election Timing and Voter Composition. American Political Science Review. https://ssrn.com/abstract=3888349

Kogan V, Lavertu S, & Peskowitz Z (2018) Election Timing, Electorate Composition, and Policy Outcomes: Evidence from School Districts. American Journal of Political Science, 62(3), 637–651. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26598772

MIT Election Science + Data Lab (2022) Election Timing. https://electionlab.mit.edu/research/election-timing

National Center for Education Statistics. School and District Navigator Map. https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/schoolmap/

Schaffner BF, Streb MJ, & Wright GC (2007) A new look at the Republican advantage in nonpartisan elections. Political Research Quarterly, 60(2), 240–249. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1065912907301812?journalCode=prqb

Schaffner BF, Streb M, & Wright G (2001) Teams without Uniforms: The Nonpartisan Ballot in State and Local Elections. In Source: Political Research Quarterly (Vol. 54, Issue 1). https://www.proquest.com/docview/215316892?sourcetype=Scholarly%20Journals

 

State school board election webpages:

AL: Dates to Remember 2024 Election Cycle. Alabama Association of School Boards. https://www.alabamaschoolboards.org/_assets/img/Campaigns-Elections/Dates%20to%20Remember-2024%20Election%20Cycle.pdf

AK: File for an REAA Election. State of Alaska Division of Elections. https://www.elections.alaska.gov/reaa/file-for-an-reaa-election/#main_content

AZ: School Board Service Booklet, Arizona School Board Association. https://azsba.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/ASBA-School-Board-Service-Booklet.pdf

AR: Board of Elections. Arkansas School Boards Association. https://www.arsba.org/page/board-elections

CA: 2024 California Election Guide. California Secretary of State. https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/upcoming-elections/pres-prim-march-2024/2024-california-election-guide

CO: 2023 School Director Elections Timeline. Colorado Association of School Boards. https://casb.memberclicks.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=889:2023-school-director-election-timeline&catid=23:legal-updates

DE: 2024 State of Delaware Election Calendar. Delaware Department of Elections. https://elections.delaware.gov/public/calendar/pdfs/2024ElectionCalendar.pdf

FL: Qualifying Information, Florida Secretary of State. https://dos.fl.gov/elections/candidates-committees/qualifying/

GA: Candidate Information and Forms Required for Elected Office. Georgia Secretary of State. https://sos.ga.gov/candidate-qualifying-elected-office

HI: Board Members. State of Hawaii Board of Education. https://boe.hawaii.gov/About/Members/Pages/Members.aspx

ID: Election Calendars. Idaho Secretary of State. https://sos.idaho.gov/elections-division/calendars/

IL: Key Dates for School Board Candidates. Illinois Association of School Boards. https://www.iasb.com/IASB/media/General/Elections/2023/candidates_keydates.pdf

IN: School Board Candidate Election Procedures, 2024. Indiana School Boards Association. https://web.isba-ind.org/External/WCPages/WCWebContent/webcontentpage.aspx?ContentID=420

IA: Candidate’s Guide to the School Elections. Office of the Iowa Secretary of State. https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/electioninfo/schoolcandguide.pdf

KS: Kansas Election Standards, Chapter 4. Kansas Secretary of State. https://sos.ks.gov/elections/election-standards/Kansas-Election-Standards-Chapter-IV-Candidates.pdf

KY: 2024 School Board Elections Resource Guide. Kentucky School Boards Association. https://filecabinet7.eschoolview.com/1365B58C-F95F-4E75-94BB-A29D9A94F1C7/fc877c16-bd16-44c8-a0f6-b3f816d6a491.pdf

LA: 2024 Elections. Louisiana Secretary of State. https://www.sos.la.gov/ElectionsAndVoting/PublishedDocuments/ElectionsCalendar2024.pdf
MA: How to Run for Office in 2024. Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. https://www.sec.state.ma.us/divisions/elections/getting-on-the-ballot/how-to-run-for-office.htm

ME: About Local Government in Maine. Maine Municipal Association. https://www.memun.org/Training/Citizen-Education/Local-Government-in-Maine#:~:text=Under%20%22home%20rule%2C%22%20municipalities,government%20is%20exactly%20the%20reverse.

MD: Candidacy Introduction. Maryland State Board of Elections. https://elections.maryland.gov/candidacy/index.html

MI: 2024 Candidates Guide to School Board Elections. Michigan Associations of School Boards. https://www.masb.org/docs/default-source/tools-and-templates/get-on-board/candidatesguide_2024.pdf?sfvrsn=ea66605d_2

MN: 2024 General Election Timeline No Primary. Minnesota School Board Association. https://search.mnmsba.org/doc/resource/4ddfe596-1e99-4ee8-bce7-973b59bbca5d

MS: 2024 Candidate Qualifying Guide. Mississippi Secretary of State. https://www.sos.ms.gov/content/documents/elections/2024%20Candidate%20Qualifying%20Guide.pdf

MO: 2024 Missouri Elections Calendar. Missouri Secretary of State. https://www.sos.mo.gov/elections/calendar

MT: Montana Election Forms. Montana Secretary of State. https://sosmt.gov/elections/forms/#37-45-wpfd-for-candidates

NE: 2024 School Board Elections Information. Nebraska Association of School Boards. https://members.nasbonline.org/docs/librariesprovider6/default-document-library/2024-election-card.pdf?sfvrsn=a54f063_2
NH: Running for Office. New Hampshire Secretary of State. https://www.sos.nh.gov/elections/running-office

NV: 2024 Election Information, Nevada Secretary of State. https://www.nvsos.gov/sos/elections/election-information/2024-election-information

NJ: Becoming a School Board Member: Candidate Kit. New Jersey School Boards Association. https://www.njsba.org/about/membership/membership-school-board-members/school-board-candidacy/

NM: 2024 Municipal Officer Election Candidate Information, New Mexico Secretary of State. https://www.sos.nm.gov/candidate-and-campaigns/how-to-become-a-candidate/2024-municipal-officer-election-candidate-information/

NY: Running for School Board. New York State School Boards Association. https://www.nyssba.org/member-services/running-for-the-school-board/

NC: Running for Office. North Carolina State Board of Elections. https://www.ncsbe.gov/candidates/running-office

ND: 2024 North Dakota Election Calendar. North Dakota Secretary of State. https://vip.sos.nd.gov/pdfs/Portals/electioncalendar.pdf

OH: A Guide for 2023 School Board Candidates. Ohio School Boards Association. https://www.ohioschoolboards.org/sites/default/files/uploads/2023_GetOnBoard_FAQFlier_digital.pdf

OK: Important Information for School Board Candidates. Oklahoma State School Boards Association. https://www.ossba.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/2023-2024-Candidate-Information.pdf

OR: County, City, and District Candidate Manual. Oregon Secretary of State. https://sos.oregon.gov/elections/Documents/county-city-district-candidates.pdf

PA: Important Dates for the 2023 Pennsylvania Elections. Pennsylvania Department of State. https://www.vote.pa.gov/About-Elections/Pages/Election-Calendar.aspx

SC: Candidates. South Carolina Elections Commission. https://scvotes.gov/candidates/

SD: 2024 Municipal Elections Calendar. South Dakota Secretary of State. https://sdsos.gov/elections-voting/assets/2024MunicipalElectionCalendar.pdf

TN: Important Dates for the 2023 Pennsylvania Elections, Pennsylvania Secretary of State. https://www.vote.pa.gov/About-Elections/Pages/Election-Calendar.aspx

TX: Candidates Guide for Nomination and General Election for 2024. Texas Secretary of State. https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/candidates/guide/2024/index.shtml

UT: Utah Election Calendar. State of Utah Office of the Lieutenant Governor. https://vote.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/42/2024/02/2024-Utah-Election-Calendar-Candidates.pdf

VT: Information for Candidates Local Office. Vermont Secretary of State. https://sos.vermont.gov/elections/election-info-resources/candidates/local-office-candidates/

WA: File for Office. Washington Secretary of State. https://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/candidates/filing-resources/file-office

WV: 2024 Elections Calendar. West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office. https://sos.wv.gov/elections/Documents/West%20Virginia%20Election%20Calendar.pdf

WI: Guide for Candidates. Wisconsin Association of School Boards. https://wasb.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Guide_for_Candidates.pdf

WY: School Board Trustee Application for Election. Wyoming Secretary of State. https://sos.wyo.gov/Forms/Elections/Apps/School_Board_Trustee_Application.pdf

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