School boards: public interest or special interest?

Longtime Nixa, Missouri school board member Peggy Adams will head the Missouri School Board Association, according to today’s Springfield News-Leader. The news brings up an important question as to the role of local school boards and the statewide association that represents them.

Do school boards represent taxpayers, citizens and students in overseeing public school districts, or do boards serve the teachers unions and other interest groups spawned by a sprawling public school system? In other words, do school boards serve the public interest or special interests?

In theory, they exist to serve the public interest. Yet all too often it seems that their composition and behavior is excessively influenced by parties with financial or political self-interest in the system. This would mainly be the teachers unions, but also any group representing those with such interests in the district. Like administrators, for instance.

It’s a classic public choice problem: vested interests agitate for outcomes that benefit them at the expense of the public good, and since they are disproportionately involved with the system, they often prevail. These interest groups are often more involved with school board elections, and thus can often install candidates favorable to their interests. Then, using the credibility and authority of one inside the system, advocate policies to the board that may or may not benefit the public and the students (remember them?), but definitely benefit themselves.

Obviously, this happens in some places more than others, and there is no doubt a dramatic range of school boards in the 524 districts across the state.

The question today is, will Adams help lead the state association in a way that helps boards serve the public interest (taxpayers and students), or special interests (unions, associations, etc.). Hopefully we’ll see some good reporting on this topic, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Filed under Education, Missouri Politics

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