Across the Network advocates are working at the local level to impact change for kids, supporting school board candidates advancing reform, and empowering parents and local leaders to actively engage with their board. This is the first in a series of posts examining how Network reform leaders are working directly in their communities to influence policy change. As we lead up the annual PIE Network Summit—a space to reflect on lessons learned and plan for the coming year—we’ll be highlighting both high-profile and incremental successes at various levels of policy making.
ConnCAN: Empower Community Advocates to Evaluate School Board
A new parent engagement platform is putting Connecticut parents in the front row at district school board meetings. ConnCAN launched Board Watch, a program to train parents and community advocates, enabling them to thoughtfully observe and evaluate school board meetings on various indicators, including transparency, conduct, competency, etc. Parents issue grades for the school board and ConnCAN publicly posts them at the end of the academic year. The pilot program—launched in Norwalk, CT—provided detailed recommendations and observations from parents and community advocates that informed the board’s own self-evaluation.
Over the course of the year, parent participants, many of whom had never attended a board meeting before this program, opted to develop recommendations for the board on removing barriers to parental engagement, both at school and board meetings. Some participants are also considering a future run for the local school board. Based on its success in Norwalk, ConnCAN plans to expand the program in the future, and encourages advocates across the Network to use their pilot as a model for similar programs.
DFER LA & Stand for Children LA: Support Reform Board Candidates during Reunification of Orleans School District
The 2016 school board election cycle was pivotal for New Orleans public schools as all public schools prepared to be reunified under the same school board for the first time since before Hurricane Katrina. A coalition of Louisiana advocates, including PIE Network members Democrats for Education Reform Louisiana and Stand for Children Louisiana, executed a comprehensive campaign to support reform leaders running for the Orleans Parish School Board. In many cases, this meant supporting strong incumbents that were already leading progress in the district. Through various engagement and marketing efforts, the coalition successfully elected every candidate they publicly endorsed. Statements from DFER-LA about several of the candidates are available on their website here and here.
Advocates are now working with the newly elected Orleans Parish School Board to advance district policy, ensuring that district reforms from recent years serve as the basis for progress moving forward.
In an effort to help develop future local leaders, Stand for Children Louisiana is simultaneously operating their Education Leadership Institute—in conjunction with DFER LA, the Black Alliance for Educational Options in New Orleans, New Schools Baton Rouge, and the area Baton Rouge chamber. The Institute is designed to help up and coming education and community leaders develop deeper knowledge on various education issues like school finance, school supports, governance issues, etc.
Arkansas Learns: Align School Board Elections with Primary or General Elections
Advocates in Arkansas worked to maximize participation in school board elections by requiring districts to align them with primary (May) or general (November) elections. The legislation—six years in the making—successfully passed in 2017. Two years ago, Arkansas Learns worked to pass a bill that gave districts the option to hold their school board election on the same day as the general election. While no districts proactively chose this option, the state required it for two districts that they were returning to local control. In those districts, voter turnout for school board seats set records and served as irrefutable examples of how this legislative change could increase civic engagement.
Aligning school board elections with primary or general elections also mobilized additional voters, giving citizens—not just employees mobilized by the local union—the opportunity to impact the race. While the progress on this legislation was incremental over many years, Arkansas Learns and their partners hope to build on the momentum of this bill by empowering local communities to identify, recruit and elect board candidates aligned with its core values: student-focus, transparency, accountability, rewards, and choice.
In 2016, Arkansas Learns also supported a slate of student-focused candidates in the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD), serving portions of the state’s capitol. This was especially important as PCSSD was being returned to local from state control. Arkansas Learns collaborated with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce to identify, recruit, and elect six of the seven members of the board. These efforts, coupled with an election that aligned with the general election, resulted in over 50,000 voters, the greatest turnout in school board election history in Arkansas.
Stand Arizona: Maintain Majority on Community College District Board Race
Stand for Children Arizona fought to maintain majority on the Community College District Board that supports the community college system’s current mission and withstands attempts to eliminate services like remediation. The opposition was attempting to stack the board with candidates who would lower costs and services for community college. Arizona’s community college system is one of the largest in the nation, and if the board shifted in this direction, the P-20 pipeline would be at risk.
To influence voters, Stand Arizona used direct mail, digital media, and canvassing to both build support for their candidates and keep opposition candidates out of the race. They were successful in electing two of their three endorsed candidates. Although their majority is slim, the board is more supportive of the P-20 pipeline, and these efforts should help maintain high-quality community college offerings for students.
If you know of other advocates working to impact change at a community or district level, let us know. Continue to check back on our website for additional highlights across the Network as we lead up to the annual PIE Network Summit, where leading advocates across the country come together to debrief wins and losses from the year and plan for their upcoming legislative sessions.