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State Boards of Education Seats Up for Grabs

Most casual observers tend to focus on state boards of education when they're stirring things up—feuding over, say, the teaching of evolution, or the status of Islam in textbooks. Those battles matter, but state boards also play a major role in influencing teaching and learning in less theatrical ways, by shaping standards, setting graduation requirements, and implementing federal policy, among other duties. That's why the elections to fill those state board seats next Tuesday are worth watching—even if the results won't make national headlines.

Eleven states, plus the District of Columbia, are staging elections for those panels this fall, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Those states include the perennial socio-cultural battleground, Texas, as well as Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, and Utah. The association is also counting the District of Columbia's state board of education in their tally. And while New Mexico is officially a "public education commission," which advises the state's secretary of education, not a state board, NASBE is counting it, too. The numbers of seats on the ballot differs in each state.

State boards have varying degrees of power. Some, like Texas, wield outsized influence because their decisions can shape the textbook market (though perhaps not as much as they once did, as we've reported). Three of the states/jurisdictions hosting elections—D.C., Hawaii, and Ohio—were winners in the federal Race to the Top competition, so presumably, victorious candidates will have some hand in managing or overseeing those plans, as they roll forward. In several of those states, board members may be working with newly elected governors and new party majorities in state legislatures, which could throw some extra volatility into the mix.

NASBE has put together a nice matrix of state board races on the ballot this fall (with governors, state school chiefs, and members of congress included). They've also assembled a guide explaining the status of various state boards within their state governments. With NASBE's permission, I've linked to both of them, so for the election-obsessed out there, enjoy!

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