The following Op-Ed was submitted by Kaitlyn Shepherd with the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Note: Op-Eds do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those at the Idaho Dispatch.
Actions of local school boards are currently at the forefront of many parents’ minds. Families and voters all over the country have been angered over school boards’ mask mandates, curricular choices, and unnecessary school closures.
Ironically, voter turnout for school board elections is low. Parents who want to see change in their child’s school must start showing up to the voting booth. Unfortunately, many voters lack information about their local school board candidates.
That’s why IFF recently administered an eight-question survey to every school board trustee candidate in the state of Idaho to help inform families about their candidates’ positions and the key role that school boards play in the daily lives of students.
The questions cover a wide variety of issues, ranging from the meaning of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) to the fundamental role of education. We also asked candidates to describe their positions on issues like mask mandates in schools, the content of sex ed curriculums, and strategies for restoring academic rigor and excellence.
We designed these questions to educate parents and concerned citizens like you about the candidates’ positions so that you can make informed decisions on Election Day. IFF staff do not edit the responses in order to accurately reflect each candidate’s opinions and vision.
We intend for this survey to engage voters and raise awareness about the importance of local school board elections. Currently, low voter turnout for school board elections is the norm.
Although candidates for national offices have highly publicized party platforms to give voters a general idea of where they stand on important issues, it can be difficult to determine the views and positions of candidates running for local school board. This could partially explain why voter turnout for school board elections is so low.
Another possible explanation for low voter turnout in school board elections is that voters perceive school board elections to be less important than high-profile national elections. On the contrary, school board elections have a significant impact on your daily life. School boards perform many important functions, such as choosing a district superintendent, reviewing budgets, approving curriculums, and adopting other policies and procedures designed to implement the board’s vision for the district.
The superintendent plays an important role in running the day-to-day operations of the school district and making recommendations, but the board members make the final call on policies impacting your kids’ education.
The upside of low voter turnout in school board elections is that your vote can carry a lot of weight. Because voter turnout for local school board races is so low, the winner is often decided by a small number of votes.
Simply by showing up and voting, you can have a significant impact on the result.
For example, in 2017, voters reelected Janie Gebhardt to the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 Board of Trustees with 357 votes. She prevailed over challenger Kert Howard by a mere 26 votes (Howard received 331 of the 702 total votes cast) and over challenger S. “Idaho Lorax” Carta by 343 votes (Carta received 14 of 702 votes).
In 2015, Mandy Simpson (77 votes) won Nampa School District’s open seat in Zone 1 by only 30 votes over Jac Webb (47 votes) and by 40 votes over Jocabed Veloz (37 votes). Only 161 total voters cast their ballots for a candidate in this race.
Some elections have been decided by even smaller margins. In 2015, Toni Waters lost by only four votes to Thomas Briten in the race for the Zone 2 seat on Caldwell School Board. Election officials reported that five ballots were incorrectly issued in the election, revealing just how close school board elections can be.
A handful of concerned parents casting their votes can make all the difference. Moreover, empowered parents who understand candidates’ positions on critical education issues could renew academic excellence in Idaho schools—and that’s what IFF’s survey aims to achieve.
You can read the candidates’ responses on IFF’s website at https://idahofreedom.org/school-candidate/.
Note: As a 501(c)(3) organization, IFF does not endorse or oppose any candidate for public office. Candidates’ responses are provided solely for educational purposes.
Tags: Critical Race Theory, Education, Idaho Freedom Foundation, Kaitlyn Sheperd, Op-Ed, Social Emotional Learning