Have school boards forgotten parents and taxpayers?

July 11, 2018

Brandon Dutcher

Given the much-publicized scandal at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, a recent policy memorandum from the 1889 Institute could not be more timely. The paper is titled “Baked-In Corruption: The Need to Reform Boards and Commissions.” One particular passage regarding local school boards caught my eye.

School board elections in Oklahoma occur in February, an obscure election date when very few voters are paying any attention or bother to show up at the ballot box. One study showed that teachers turn out to vote in school district elections at rates more than double and even triple the rates of general voters—the taxpayers who foot the bill. One reason for this is obvious. Teachers have a strong financial interest in the decisions the school board makes. It is likely that the voting differential is made all the more dramatic when that financial interest, which boosts teacher turnout, is combined with obscure election dates, which suppress the turnout of taxpayers. 

Because of the outsized role that insiders have in the election of school board members, school boards at times appear to be more interested in serving the interest of the insiders rather than the interests of parents and taxpayers. Witness the recent situation in Oklahoma where some school boards cancelled two weeks of school at great inconvenience and cost to parents and educational detriment to students, so that their teachers and administrators could go to the Capitol in an attempt to make a large pay raise even larger (and get paid by the district for doing it).

OCPA has written on this topic for years, and survey research from SoonerPoll (2015) and from Cor Strategies (2017) has found that Oklahomans favor moving local school board elections to November.