Are you frustrated with your child’s public school? Do you feel like the school could use some major changes? 

Have you ever considered that YOU might be the person to make those changes?

Before you think you’re not cut out for that, we’re here to tell you that you (yes, you!) can make those changes in your local school by running for the school board. 

If you don’t know where to start, that’s why we’re here! We’ve put together a quick guide to running a campaign for the school board! And, it’s not as hard as you might think…

What does the school board do?

First of all, let’s briefly go over what a school board is and what it does. 

According to the National School Boards Association, school board members are responsible for creating a goal and vision for the school. They set a standard of academic achievement. They decide how teachers and the superintendent should perform.

As elected members, the school board should keep the community informed about any changes or progress in the school. They need to be held accountable to the public because they represent the community’s voice. More importantly, they are advocating for parents and students.

If you feel your district’s school board has failed in any of these expectations, then you might be the one to take a member’s place.

Why you should get involved

So yes…you think your school board has not done the best job. You think someone better should run for the school board, but you’re not sold on running yourself.

Education reference site ThoughtCo lists these reasons why you should consider starting your own school board campaign:

  1. You are a concerned citizen or parent.
  2. You want to make a difference in how the school is run.
  3. You believe you can make a positive change.
  4. You enjoy politics and want to have a say in the matter.
  5. You want to see a change in who works at the school.

If you nodded along to any of these, you have more to offer than you realize. 

Inspirational thinker Simon Sinek has said that the “why” behind what you do influences everything. Once you know your “why,” you’ll know what motivates you—and if running for school board might be the answer.

You don’t need years of experience; you just need a cause that’s worth fighting for.

How to get started

Step 1: Be prepared with a position

Before you begin your campaign, you’ll want to research common school board issues and be prepared to discuss them.

Some common issues are:

  • School budget
  • Student achievement and test scores
  • Improving facilities
  • Shortage of teachers
  • School discipline

What do you think is the best way for the school board to handle these issues? Your beliefs will drive the campaign.

You’ll also want to create a slogan. Think through some of your values. What can you put together? Are there any play-on-words to your name? You want your campaign slogan to be short and simple, yet meaningful.

Step 2: Identify upcoming elections in your area

School board terms (the length of time you serve) range from two to six years. The average term for most school districts is three years.

You can use resources like https://www.runforoffice.org/ to see what’s up for election in your area and when. This will help you decide if you have enough time to prepare a campaign before election day.

Step 3: Discover your state and local requirements

Requirements to run for school board vary by state and district. You can find your state’s requirements online by typing your state and the word “election” into a search engine. State sites listing election requirements will likely end with a “.gov” and look something like this: https://www.elections.virginia.gov/index.html

While your state might have certain unique specifications, Diligent Insights (an online hub for board management resources) lists these common qualifications to run for your local school board

  • Be a registered voter
  • Be a resident of the school district 
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Not have a felony conviction
  • Not a current employee nor a relative of an employee in the district

Before you start campaigning, research your state’s list of the pre-election procedures that need to be completed before running. These steps will be outlined on your state’s election website, as mentioned above. 

For example, Virginia has an online page dedicated to helping potential candidates know what to do to run for office. This information includes:

  1. Qualifications to run.
  2. Collecting signatures and filling out forms to be eligible.
  3. A timeline of when you need to file your forms. (There are even campaign filing schedules to help you know deadlines.)
  4. How to find your general registrar. (Typically, you can do this by entering your county information on your state’s election site. It might look something like https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation/PublicContactLookup)
  5. Submitting eligibility forms to your general registrar. (They will also be able to answer additional district-specific questions.)

It may seem like a lot of information, but these state election websites are in place to help citizens know what to do so that anyone can get involved!

Step 4: Know your time commitment

According to the XQ Institute, becoming a school board member definitely requires a time commitment. Depending on the district and the responsibilities, you may be contributing on a part-time or full-time basis.

It is important to note that most school board members are volunteers. And, for those who do get paid, salaries and stipends vary depending on the state and district. Smaller school districts are usually on a volunteer basis, while larger school districts sometimes pay a modest amount.

As you gather information to run your campaign, consider asking current school board members about their time investment and if they receive compensation for their work. 

Step 5: Set a budget and secure funding

Unfortunately, campaigns are not cheap. 

Before you start going door to door, you’ll want to set a budget for your campaign. Depending on the district, campaigns can cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. A large portion of your costs will come from spreading the word about your platform. Advertising expenses include the cost of yard signs, brochures, mailings, and digital formats like online ads. To put things in perspective and help you set that budget, you can browse the Federal Election Commission’s site to see how much previous candidates have spent.

Before you panic, though, you don’t have to foot the whole bill yourself! Candidates have learned that fundraising is a campaign necessity once you determine your budget. An article on Running for School Board, a campaign resource site, shares common ways to fundraise, such as holding events, making calls, and offering an online donation platform.

Step 6: Get a campaign team

Once you set your budget and research fundraising options, you’ll need to find some help! 

American Majority suggests thinking of finding volunteers as a series of layers. Often, it’s easiest to start by asking your inner circle friends and family to help you. Then, you can expand to others like your coworkers, members of your church, alumni from your school, and so on. Those people will have circles of friends too, so your list of volunteers can keep growing. You might even be surprised by who has previous campaign experience!

The Leadership Institute recommends filling out your team with young people. Teens and young adults are a great demographic to reach as campaign volunteers because they often have more time to be actively involved, they add a fresh face of optimism and innovation to your campaign, and those of voting age can appeal to their peers to vote for you in the election. Plus, they’ll also appreciate the resume-building opportunity!

Step 7: Prepare for challenges in advance

It is challenging work to run a campaign. Before the going gets rough, consider potential bumps in the road in advance so you’ll be ready to address them if they come your way:

  • Campaigns are time-consuming! Set boundaries for the amount of time and energy you’re willing to give to the campaign.
  • Opponents can be mud-slingers, but don’t throw it back at them! Keep your eye on the prize: the school improvements that you’re going to help make when you win. Competition can bring out the worst in people, so try to shrug it off and just keep campaigning. People will respect you for it.
  • Keep in mind why you’re running. Campaigning can be hard work, so staying motivated by your goals is key! so you’ll need to know how much time and energy you can give. As the hard work of campaigning sets in, kou’ll need to keep in mind why you are running as it’ll motivate you.
  • It can be difficult to get your message out, as political communication software CallHub says, which is why you need a good campaign team. Election season means all hands on deck! 
  • School board elections often have low voter turnout, so every vote counts. While trying to drum up more local participation can be discouraging, a perk of the situation is that reaching just a few more people can have a huge impact on the election!

Where to go from here

If your school board needs a change, now’s your chance to make a difference!

Here at NWEF, we’re devoted to empowering people to be the change they want to see. You can find more resources on current school issues on our website and blog, or join in the conversation on social media.

 Need more guidance on school board elections? Our friends at The Leadership Institute have courses and resources to help you run a successful campaign.