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Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions about School Boards and Public Education

What do school boards do?

Local school boards (also known as boards of education, school committees, school directors, or trustees) are elected—or occasionally appointed—to be leaders and champions for public education in their states and communities. 

What is a school board's most important responsibility?

The most important responsibility of school boards is to work with their communities to improve student achievement in their local public schools. School boards derive their power and authority from the state. In compliance with state and federal laws, school boards establish policies and regulations by which their local schools are governed.

Your school board is responsible for:

  • employing the superintendent
  • developing and adopting policies, curriculum, and the budget;
  • overseeing facilities issues; and
  • adopting collective bargaining agreements.

Read more about the work of school boards on our Key Work of School Boards page and at the Center for Public Education.

What do we know about school board members?

School board members are as diverse as the democracy they serve. School board members, especially those in large districts, are more representative of the communities they serve than state legislatures and members of Congress. Boards include women (44 percent are female) at more than twice the rate of the U.S. House of Representatives (about 17 percent) and the U.S. Senate (about 20 percent). In large districts, 21.8 percent of school boards members surveyed were African-American and six percent were Latino. 

School board members:

  • are well-educated
    • 75 percent of board members have a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • describe their political views as ideologically moderate
  • only 17.6 percent have ever been affiliated with a teachers union
  • Two-thirds see an urgent need to improve student achievement
  • 90 percent are concerned about an overly narrow focus on achievement

Do school board members receive pay?

  • School board members tend to be dedicated volunteers:
  • 75 percent of small-district school board members receive no salary
  • <40 percent of large-district school board members work >40 hours per month on board-related duties in return for a modest salary. 

What are school board members' goals for students?

School board members and superintendents have similar goals for preparing their students for college, the workplace, and, above all, “a satisfying and productive life.” Learn more

Read School Boards Circa 2010: Governance in the Accountability Era and find out:

  • who serves on school boards
  • what board members think about a number of school reform initiatives
  • how they do their work
  • how school board elections are carried out
  • how school boards and superintendents work together 

Do effective school boards improve their schools and raise student achievement?

Recent research shows that school boards have a significant impact on student achievement in their districts. 

What makes a school board effective?

Effective School Boards:

  1. Commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement.
  2. Have strong shared beliefs and values about students’ ability to learn and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
  3. Are accountability driven.
  4. Have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community.
  5. Are data-savvy.
  6. Align and sustain resources to meet district goals.
  7. Lead as a united team with the superintendent.
  8. Take part in team development and training.

Read more about the eight characteristics of effective school boards.

Read about the Lighthouse Project, a program that is studying best practices of school board/superintendent teams for improving student learning in several states.

How can I communicate with my school board?

School board members engage community members in many informal ways:

  • they talk with parents, the media, and local organizations
  • they post information on school websites
  • they bring citizen groups together on a variety of issues

School board members also engage the public in more formal ways:

  • study circles
  • focus groups
  • town meetings
  • polling

School boards encourage community members to attend open school board meetings, and they establish procedures for people who wish to speak or ask questions during the public comment period.

How do I go about running for my school board?

Your state establishes the basic qualifications and procedures for becoming a candidate and running for your school board.
Many state school boards associations have developed guidance for people who might want to become school board members.
Some hold in-person sessions for potential candidates.

Consult the state school boards association in your state for assistance. Click your state on the map to find your state school boards association’s contact information.

What is the history of school boards in the United States?

Local democratic control of public education was a strongly rooted tradition in our country long before it became an independent nation. In 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law requiring towns to establish and maintain schools.

These early schools were administered by the citizens through their town meetings. As school matters became more complex, control was given to the citizens’ elected representatives, the selectmen, and later to committees of townspeople who hired the schoolmaster, provided schoolhouses, and attended to other school-related matters.

The establishment of school committees

By the early 1800’s these school committees—as school boards are still called in Massachusetts—had developed into continuing bodies which were separate from the rest of the town’s government.

In 1826 Massachusetts formally established the system of school committees by requiring each town to elect a separate school committee to have “the general charge and superintendence” of all the public schools of the town. Over time, this model spread to the rest of the nation, insuring that local citizens would have a direct voice in the development and governance of their public schools.

Schools and School Districts

Where can I get basic information and statistics on public education in the U.S.?

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center on Education Statistics produces a vast amount of detailed information and statistics on American education.

Data on specific schools and school districts.

Data on specific schools and school districts by state.

Performance data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The Condition of Education summarizes important developments and trends in education using the latest available statistics.

The Digest of Education Statistics provides a compilation of statistical information covering the broad range of American education.

How are public schools funded in the U.S.?

Public school funding comes from three sources:

  • State government
  • Local government
  • Federal government

However, the proportions and sources of funding can vary greatly from state-to-state, and even from district-to-district within the same state.

State funding

  • About 48 percent of public school funding comes from the state.
  • Most state funding is supported by tax revenue.
  • Sometimes it is supplemented by alternative sources, such as lotteries.

Typically, state funding for public schools uses a formula based on per-pupil-costs in local schools.

Local funding

More than 43 percent of school funding is locally derived from:

  • Property taxes
  • Other types of taxes

Federal funding

Only 9 percent or less of traditional public education funding comes from the federal government.

The two programs that are the largest sources of federal funding to school districts are mandated:

  • Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which targets economically disadvantaged students, and
  • IDEA grants, which provide special education funding under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Recently, competitive grants have provided additional federal money for public school improvements on a temporary basis:

Read “Money Matters”, a series of articles by the Center for Public Education explaining the complex aspects of public school funding.

What are charter schools?

Simply put, a charter school is a non-religious public school operating under a contract, or “charter,” that governs its operation.

Charter schools account for five percent of the nation’s public schools. Charter school enrollment is small compared to regular public schools, but it is growing.

  • 5,600 charter schools are open nationwide
  • 2 million students are enrolled in charter schools
  • 41 states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws

How do charter schools operate?

All details of a charter school’s operations are set forth in its charter:

  • Name
  • Organizational structure
  • Management
  • Curriculum
  • Means of measuring student performance

Like other publicly-funded schools, charter schools:

  • must have open enrollment policies
  • may not charge tuition
  • must participate in state testing and federal accountability programs

What are the differences between charter schools and traditional public schools?

One of the key differences between charter schools and traditional public schools is:

  • regulatory freedom and autonomy from state and local rules regarding:
  • staffing
  • curriculum choices
  • budget management

In exchange:

  • Their charter is reviewed and renewed (or revoked) by the authorizing agency every few years.

This freedom and experimentation make charter schools extraordinarily difficult to describe or evaluate at a national level.

Do charter schools perform better than traditional public schools?

A recent study found that the majority of charter schools perform no better or worse than traditional schools. 

  • Only 17 percent performed significantly better (at the 95 percent confidence level) than the traditional public school.
  • 37 percent performed significantly worse in reading and math
  • 46 percent performed the same in reading and math

Read about this study and more about charter schools in this report from the Center for Public Education at NSBA and the new NSBA Charter School Resource Center.

About NSBA

What is NSBA and who are its members?

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) was founded in 1940 as a not-for-profit organization to assist state school boards associations in their efforts to support public education and local school board governance.

NSBA and its member state school boards associations represent more than 90,000 local school board members who are committed to leadership for student achievement. You can learn more about your state school boards association here.

What does NSBA do to support and improve public education?


Working with and through our State Associations, NSBA Advocates for Equity and Excellence in Public Education through School Board Leadership.


National leadership that encourages outstanding school board governance to achieve student success.

NSBA’s major functions

Major functions designed to carry out NSBA’s mission and vision: 

  • NSBA supports and brings together state school boards associations to enhance their services to local school boards.
  • NSBA represents the interests of school board members and public education before Congress, Executive Branch agencies, the Supreme Court, and national media.
  • NSBA holds informative national conferences, webinars, and other events to help school board members and other educational leaders perform their jobs effectively and improve public education in their communities.
  • NSBA produces reliable and accessible research and information on current issues in public education as well as successful practices in public schools.
  • NSBA publishes an award-winning magazine, American School Board Journal, and numerous online publications and newsletters.
  • NSBA promotes the Key Work of School Boards, a framework of eight interrelated action areas to focus and guide school boards in their work.

What is the difference between NSBA and NASBE, the National Association of State Boards of Education?

The National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) members are the state school boards associations in each state. Local school boards belong to their state associations. Many local boards also take advantage of a variety of NSBA products, services, and conferences by virtue of their membership in their state association. Local school boards have responsibility for goal setting, policymaking, community involvement and oversight of administrative aspects for their individual school districts.

The National Association of State Boards of Education’s (NASBE) members are the state boards of education, which are the governing and policymaking bodies for each state wide system of public education.

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