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How Monitoring School Board Discussions Can Give You a Competitive Advantage

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Over the last few years, school board meetings have become a hotbed for political and cultural debates.

The primary role of local school boards is to include the community in public education decisions. While they mostly handle administrative tasks — such as approving teaching licenses and certificates, hiring and firing employees, and making budgetary and purchasing decisions — discussions are becoming more and more contested.

Several factors may be contributing to the increased politicization and polarization of school boards:

  • Outside money and interest groups are increasingly getting involved in school board discussions
  • As one of the smallest decision-making bodies in any given region, they provide an immediate and effective venue for activists to take action and try to advance their agendas
  • Dwindling general news coverage of the core administrative responsibilities of school boards means that the public may have a warped perception of their role, because they only hear about them in the context of national cultural debates

5 Reasons to Care About School Board Discussions

Although fights over things like library book bans, trans students’ access to bathrooms, critical race theory, and policing and public safety in schools have been in the national spotlight, the routine issues like curriculum decisions, staffing issues, and purchasing decisions can also be controversial and impactful. Here are five reasons why your organization should pay attention to school board discussions.

1. School board decisions can impact your current and future workforce

K-12 students represent the future workforce. Many of the routine decisions school boards make about curricula, school day or school year length, and experiential learning opportunities can impact workforce issues.

If your organization relies on students to fill low-skilled jobs, or is already facing labor shortages because current graduates lack interest or appropriate skills, engaging with school boards could be an important way to proactively address or mitigate those issues.

2. Schools have large budgets for procurement

Most school districts have procurement budgets in the millions, or even billions, depending on the population size of the community they represent. And the items they purchase range from basic facilities supplies and food preparation and food service items to specialized sports, music, and lab equipment.

Monitoring school board discussions can give suppliers advance warning of potential shifts in procurement strategies or policies that could represent a threat or an opportunity, like shifting from single-use plastic serving utensils to compostable items.

3. School board decisions impact demand for education-related products and services

Anyone who sells education-related products (software, hardware, tutoring, test-prep, etc.) should be monitoring school board discussions, especially since many school districts are looking for better solutions for virtual instruction and reevaluating their approach to standardized testing. Many of the discussions currently happening around K-12 could be disruptive for education-related companies, as well as universities, colleges, and career training programs.

4. School districts are major employers and frequently discuss professional training and continuing education requirements for their staff

Amid a national crisis, many schools are looking for ways to rapidly certify new teachers or provide additional skills to their existing staff.

In recent years, schools in several states have invested in training such as anti-bias programs to address diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. However, with recent backlash against social justice issues, the climate is becoming less favorable to providers of those types of training.

5. School board responses to political and cultural controversy can predict national trends

School board debates often represent a microcosm of many of the larger national debates around controversial cultural issues. But because of the smaller size and faster decision cycle in school boards, those debates can turn into actual policies much faster at the school district level than at the state or even city level.

Monitoring cultural debates in school boards can give you an early indication of what kind of policies could get enacted at higher levels of government. Cultural issues being debated in school boards include

  • Public safety and public health (guns, policing, response to hate crimes, mask policies, etc.)
  • Virtual vs. in-person gatherings
  • First Amendment Rights: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly
  • LGBTQ rights and access to healthcare (including trans students’ access to bathrooms and sports teams that match their gender identity)
  • Racism and social justice
  • Reproductive rights and sex education

While political and cultural debates are happening in school boards with greater frequency, the day-to-day decisions made in them also have a sweeping impact. Increasingly, discussions in school boards affect a wider range of organizations that would benefit from proactively monitoring them. Are you prepared?

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