Opinion: School boards can keep more families from leaving public education by rejecting race politics and focusing on core learning

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center discusses why families are pulling their children out of Washington’s public schools and what school board members should do

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center discusses why families are pulling their children out of Washington’s public schools and what school board members should do

Liv Finne
Washington Policy Center

Public school boards are facing a lot of controversy right now. This fall the families of 50,000 students have pulled their children out of Washington’s public schools, five percent of the state’s total enrollment. School board members are hearing a lot of complaints from parents, as politics intrudes on the work of educating children. As a result, there is some confusion about the responsibilities and powers of local school boards.  

Liv Finne
Liv Finne

Let’s review. Many parents have pulled their children out of the public schools, for a number of  reasons, including:  

  1. Children have lost between four to seven months of learning from the COVID school lock-downs; parents are concerned the schools won’t help their children catch up;
  2. Parents are angry that racial politics have taken over the schools;
  3. Parents are concerned the state has lowered the quality of instruction in reading, math, science and history by injecting Critical Race Theory ideas into every subject;
  4. Parents are angry the state has imposed radical sex education encouraging five-year-olds to question their biological sex;
  5. Parents are upset about Governor Inslee’s mask and vaccine mandates;
  6. Parents are worried about threats from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to withhold district funding unless Governor Inslee’s mandates are followed.

Given all these problems, what should a school board member do?

State law provides some answers. School board members have the power to decide most of these controversies at the local level. Washington is a local control state. The school board hires and fires the school superintendent. The school board controls the district’s budget. The school board controls the curriculum teachers use in the classroom. 

These powers are provided in state law:

RCW 28A.320.015 School boards of directors — Powers:

  1. The board of directors of each school district may exercise the following:
  2. The broad discretionary power to determine and adopt written policies not in conflict with other law that provide for the development and implementation of programs, activities, services or practices that the board determines will
  1. Promote the education and daily physical activity of kindergarten through twelfth grade students in the public schools; or
  2. Promote the effective, efficient, or safe management and operation of the school district.

       b. Such powers as are expressly authorized by the law; and

       c. Such powers as are necessarily or fairly implied in the powers expressly authorized by law.

RCW 28A.320.230 says local school boards set policy over instructional materials. The school board then approves the materials selected by the relevant committee. Subsection (1)(f) provides:

“Recommendation of instructional materials shall be by the district’s instructional materials committee in accordance with district policy. Approval or disapproval shall be by the local school district’s board of directors.”    

The failure of local school boards to exercise their authority under the law is fueling many of the controversies facing public schools.

Parents have many reasons to leave the public education system, and the ongoing divisions in our politics is inducing even more families to seek alternatives.  Under state law, the best way for a school board to retain families and serve children is to return to a focus on core learning, to reject politics and the push for racial segregation, and to promote equal treatment and civil rights for all.

Liv Finne is the director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center.


  1. Mike Harris

    The school boards and teachers unions have been fighting going back to work for more than a year. In that time, parents have found out the socialism and communist agendas that have been set up in the schools to indoctrinate the kids. Parents are fighting back against this liberal agenda that is there to make kids hate each other, to hate America, to to try and make all kids gay or homosexual. Since the teachers unions poured thousands of dollars into getting Biden and democrats elected, they are now calling on Biden and the FBI to get parents off their backs. A new wave on cancel culture to prevent parents the right to free speech to fight back against school boards and the teachers unions who want to make little brown shirts out of you children. Public schools now days have turned into nothing more than democrat led, communist, indoctrination camps.

  2. Chris Cyborg

    The FBI can be arrested by local law enforcement if they break local laws…such as trying to intimidate the local population in to chilling speech …they are not above the law and this will come down to a Federal vs State court battle.

  3. Leslie Chasse

    Historic truth, especially the truth about atrocities committed against minorities is critical to a healthy growing society. If we ignore the past mistakes, how can we be expected to learn and grow? What I don’t understand is why are we fighting over the idea of historic truth? If a thing happened, shouldn’t history teach the truth? Are there certain segments of our country that are so terribly insecure they can’t deal with the scrutiny and examination of the facts? Is this segment so insecure about losing social position? Or are they simply afraid of being treated, as they have treated others? Do you really feel so utterly compelled to control that discussion and steer it far away from some precariously unstable emotional state of mind?

    Maybe it’s just time to grow up?

  4. pete

    Here’s a thought. How about letting the money follow the student. That is, any student can go to any school in the state*, public, private, parochial, home-school, and the taxpayer funds just follow the child. Then the schools can compete for students. To get plenty of students, the schools would have to be responsive to parents and children’s needs. We’d need to see real progress in student outcomes to justify sending students to that school.

    *The only requirement is that the student/family must live in Washington. If this plan is put into effect, it wouldn’t be long before parents in other states would want their children to attend Washington schools.

    Yeah, I know the teacher’s unions hate this idea (and anything remotely similar) — but all the teacher’s unions would have to do is to ensure that Union Teachers be the best there are and that they do the best possible job teaching their students. What’s wrong with that?

    If you look an any industry where there is constant improvement in products and services, you see that there is real competition. Your cell phone has the power of a “super computer” from 1970. (And the super computer required a room the size of a football field.) In the mid-1950s, automobiles rarely had engines more than 100HP and 200HP was only in the most expensive autos. (My 1964 VW had 36HP.) Today, autos offer far more HP and get better gas mileage, are cheaper to service and maintain and (with proper care) most can get 200,000 miles with few repairs. (In the 1960s, California sold off all state vehicles when the got to 100,000 miles as they were “worn out” at that point.)

    The point is, all consumer products and services have gotten better, more cost-effective, and more durable (at a particular price point) over the years. That’s because they compete.

    Wouldn’t we all be better off if the schools would compete, too?


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