So, what does a school board do, anyway?

You have school board questions, we have answers.

The XQ Team
May 2 · 6 min read

If high schools are the fulcrum for educational transformation, then school boards are the key to making that change happen. They create the conditions for schools to fuel the hopes and dreams of every student and family. XQ’s free four-part guide, “Rethinking High School: That’s a School Board Thing,” outlines how everyone can get more involved in their local school board, and how current school board members can be effective agents for change in their communities.

We asked readers their questions, and compiled answers we hope will set you on the road to getting more involved with your local school board — voting, attending meetings, or even running for office.

Can anyone be on a school board?

The rules vary by state and district, but in most cases, school boards are open to all registered voters who live in the district and are not employees of the district. School board members do NOT need to have children enrolled in local schools, or have prior government experience.

Do charter schools have boards? Private schools?

Charter schools and private schools have their own boards and are not governed by local school district boards. But these boards are important, too. “That’s a School Board Thing” puts it this way: “A charter board has significant responsibility for ensuring that the school provides a great education, complies with relevant laws and regulations, and uses public resources responsibly. It sets the vision for the school and makes critical decisions about resources, school leadership, and strategic planning.” Charter and private school board positions are usually appointed. Contact the school you’re interested in to learn more.

How can school boards improve school safety, special education, and other issues I care about?

School boards do not handle the district’s day-to-day operations, but they do set the vision, goals, and priorities for the district and its schools. They can decide to make special education a priority, for example, set specific goals for district leaders, and hold them accountable. If certain issues are important to you, let your board members know.

Does XQ contribute to school board campaigns?

No. XQ Institute is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to rethinking high school in the U.S. Our mission is to fuel America’s collective creativity to transform high school so every student succeeds — no matter their race, gender, or zip code.

Do school boards oversee pre-kindergarten? Colleges?

That depends on the district, although most K-12 school districts do offer pre-K. Colleges are governed separately.

Why don’t student members get a full vote?

Each district is different, but in most cases, student members serve in advisory roles and are not allowed to vote on board matters because they haven’t been elected by the public. Most jurisdictions have minimum age requirements for serving in public office, usually 18 or 21.

Are school board members paid? What’s the commitment level?

State and local laws determine how much school board members get paid. Commitment levels can vary from a few hours a week in small rural districts, where the board might only meet twice a month, to more than 40 hours a week in large urban districts, where boards may meet weekly and have numerous subcommittees. If you’re thinking about running for school board, talk to current and former board members in your district about their time commitments and how the job affects their personal and professional life.

How long do school board members hold their seats?

Typically, four years.

How do school board members manage bond money and other funding?

School boards set funding priorities and are responsible for the fiscal health of the district, ensuring the district spends taxpayers’ money in accordance with community values.

I’m a current school board member. How can I leverage my voice if I’m not in the majority on the board? What’s the best way to get my agenda passed?

Building alliances and community outreach are important skills for a successful board member. “Coalition building is the name of the game,” said Elisa Hoffman, founder and executive director of School Board School and a former member of the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education. “If you feel that your voice isn’t resonating, reach out to people whose voice might be a better fit for what you want to accomplish — either other school board members, nonprofits, community leaders, students, anyone who might be able to get your message across in a way people will listen.”

How much does it cost to run?

Candidate filing fees vary by district, and campaigns can be as inexpensive or as costly as you choose. More important than fundraising, though, is creating a network of supporters: volunteers, a cabinet of experts, partners in the business and nonprofit communities, and students and families who support your vision for local schools.

How can I get involved in my local board?

Attend school board meetings, get to know board members, volunteer for candidates you support and vote! Check here to find out who your local school board members are, where and when they meet, and when the next election is.

How can school boards fix “broken” schools?

School boards don’t get involved in the day-to-day operations of schools, but they can provide direction, leadership, and resources to help schools improve and keep successful schools on the right track. “Fixing a ‘broken’ school is the responsibility of the superintendent and people on the ground in the school — principals, teachers, staff,” Hoffman said. “But as a board member, you can work with the superintendent to set a vision, mission, and goals for the district. If a school isn’t performing well, work with your superintendent to set specific, measurable goals, not just for that school but for schools across your district. Your job is to hold the superintendent accountable via their annual evaluation.” School boards can put equity at the forefront of their agenda, and even launch school redesign, to ensure that all students get a high-quality education that prepares them for college, career, and life.

What’s the relationship between local school boards and the state and federal governments?

School boards govern local schools, but some policies and funding decisions come from other public agencies and boards, such as county boards of education, state departments of education, state school boards, and the U.S. Department of Education. States, for example, typically control how much per-pupil money each district receives, while the federal government sets policies surrounding civil rights protections, special education, programs for low-income children, and other issues.

How do I decide what candidates to support? What makes for a good school board member?

A great school board candidate:

  • Is knowledgeable about issues and challenges affecting the entire district, not just their neighborhood school.
  • Can articulate specific goals and priorities, “and isn’t just throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks,” Hoffman said. They also understand what a school board has the power to change, and what lies outside the board’s purview.
  • Listens to constituents and district employees, and treats everyone with respect. They know how to build coalitions and can work well with people of all backgrounds and viewpoints. “They should be a constant learner,” she said.
  • Clearly communicates their positions and is transparent about the decision-making process.
  • Has priorities and a vision for local young people that matches your own.

Use XQ’s School Board Lookup Tool to find out more about your local school board, and how you can get involved!


XQ recently launched “Give Me Five,” a conversational newsletter for educators and ed leaders ready to rethink high school. We find, summarize, and curate five stories every two weeks that educators can put into action. Sign up now

The XQ: Super School Project

XQ's mission is to activate America's collective creativity to transform high schools, so every student can succeed.

The XQ Team

Written by

Our mission is to activate America’s collective creativity to transform high schools, so every student can succeed.

The XQ: Super School Project

XQ's mission is to activate America's collective creativity to transform high schools, so every student can succeed.

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