It’s been a week and I have pored through the election results, both for school levies and school board elections. There weren’t a lot of school board elections this fall as most districts have moved toward even-year, but given how school board meetings have generated considerable interest over the past year on issues related to school reopening and curricular matters, these elections were watched very closely. There was not a lot of turnover in school boards this fall, as candidates critical of districts on the aforementioned issues of school reopening and curriculum often came close, but rarely won seats on the Minnesota school boards holding elections. It is always difficult to tell what will happen in elections that do not coincide with state and national elections as turnout is often much lower, but with a few notable exceptions, candidates more closely allied with current district policies prevailed. That said, the energy coming from new candidates certainly affected the discourse of the elections and the success that was enjoyed may well spill over into future elections. It’s too early to make a firm prediction, but it is my guess (CAUTION: I made the same guess last year) that while there may be COVID spikes that will disrupt instruction in some districts, that will become increasingly isolated and school opening a year from now will look very close to what was once considered traditional (and will be traditional once again).
The debate over curriculum will likely continue, especially given the results of the Virginia Governor’s race. Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives is often credited with the saying “All politics is local” whether he actually said it or not (the saying likely predates his use of the phrase), but increasingly politics is taking on a more national tone with both major parties generally promoting similar messages across the country. Education has tended to be an issue that while having national importance (see Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, etc.), results of local school board elections usually hinged solely on questions of policy developed and implemented at the local level. The message surrounding education will likely resonate in national, state, and local elections in 2022 with heavy debate revolving around issues pertaining to curriculum.
Ballot questions fared well across the state for the most part, with the notable exception of SEE districts, which organizationally lagged behind the statewide passage percentage. There were 52 operating levy questions put before voters, with 36 passing for a success rate of 69%. Among SEE districts, eight districts went out for operating levies and only 3 prevailed (New London-Spicer split, but there larger ballot question passed). On the debt service side of the equation, there were 49 questions, with 28 passing for a rate of 57%. Eight SEE districts went out for debt service bonds or a capital levy and 4 were successful, again below the statewide passage rate.
The lower success rate for SEE districts once again stresses the need for greater levels of equalization, both for the operating levy and for debt service. The capital projects levy should also be equalized. The voters in SEE districts are supportive of their schools, but as we saw once again last week, the fact that low property wealth districts are at a disadvantage when going before the voters to seek additional funds. SEE will be assembling and promoting a comprehensive legislative proposal during the 2022 legislative session to bring greater tax fairness to levy questions. Stay tuned on that.