Should We Really Elect School Boards?

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/theresasthompson/2999130055/" target="_blank">Theresa Thompson</a> (Creative Commons)

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


By now pretty much everyone has read Russell Shorto’s New York Times Magazine cover story on the Texas state board of education. The whole controversy is kind of fascinating, but one aspect of the Texas textbook wars that can’t be overstated is the skill with which conservative activists, in Texas and elsewhere, have exploited the democratic processmost notably by packing school boardsto advance their cultural agenda. Shorto digs up a pretty telling quote from Ralph Reed, formerly of the Christian Coalition: “I would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no school-board members.”

That’s probably right. After all, if you have a thousand school-board members, there’s a pretty good chance that no one will even notice; it’s a stealth revolution. With that in mind, I think Sara Mead nails it at Eduwonk:

Although it varies by state, Americans tend to elect a whole bunch of public officials, including a lot of officials in relatively obscure roles….that aren’t well understood by the public. Most voters, who have limited time and energy to devote to these issues, can’t possibly follow the performance and positions of all these officials. Having more of them be appointed by mayors, governors, and other public officials who are better known to voters may actually increase accountability.

I consider myself politically engaged, but the best way to sneak some major reform past me is to put it on the local ballot. When you leave it to the voters to assemble a panel of education experts, who, in turn, craft a state-wide curriculum, they often make weird choicesfor instance, the leading conservative voice on the Texas board of education, Don McLeroy, is a dentist. Naturally.

In the meantime, expect more stories like this, fron the Austin American-Statesman, on the moderate school board candidate who’s now being smeared as soft on terror:

“Could Tim Tuggey, who has made tens of thousands of dollars by helping the Saudis to scrub their image, be trusted to stand up to the far left to make sure our history books do not undergo revisionism?” wrote Donna Garner, a conservative education commentator who then urged her readers to donate to [the incumbent Ken] Mercer.

Well, someone had to ask, I guess.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest