Texas Public School Board Election Basics: For Book Lovers

Texas Freedom to Read Project helps book loving voters understand the basics of Texas public school board elections.

School board elections are often decided by less than 5% of registered voters in a district. If every single Texan who supports the freedom to read in Texas and opposes book bans showed up to vote, we could easily out vote the extremists responsible for the current tidal wave of bans. 

What you need to know about Texas public school board elections

The when and how of Texas independent school board elections are primarily dictated by Texas Education Code and Texas Election Code. Texas public school boards may adopt local policy that complies with state law.

Make Sure You're Registered to Vote

If you take one thing away from this post, please, please, please let it be this. In order to vote for Texas public school board candidates, you must have an active and current voter registration in the state of Texas. If you've recently moved, stop what you're doing right now and go update your registration. If you've never registered to vote in Texas, now is the time. 

Go visit https://www.votetexas.gov/ for any and all information about how to register to vote in the state of Texas.

School Board Election Day

Texas independent school boards hold their elections on the Uniform Election Day- either the first Saturday in May or the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Ask around, or contact your local election administrator to find out when your next school board election will be.

School Board Trustee Term Length

Texas school board trustees serve three or four year terms, as defined by the district’s operating procedures as adopted on September 1, 1995. Elections for trustees serving three year terms are held annually. Elections for trustees serving four year terms are held biannually (or every other year).

System of School Board Representation: At large vs. Single Member Districts

In an at-large system, all of a district’s voters are able to vote in each race. Registered voters who reside in the single-member district vote for candidates running in the district in which the candidates also reside. Some districts operate under a hybrid system, where two trustees are elected at-large, and the remaining five trustees come from single-member districts.  

There have been a number of voting rights challenges brought to Texas districts operating entirely under at-large systems in recent years that have resulted in shifts to single member and/or hybrid election systems. At-large systems have been found to systemically disenfranchise voters of color, who struggle to overcome the white voting bloc, to elect their preferred candidates, despite Black and Hispanic voters comprising the majority of certain geographic regions of many school districts.

Methods of Voting for Texas School Board Trustees

Plurality is the most common method of voting used in Texas public school board elections. The candidate with the most votes wins. There are no run-offs under the plurality method of voting.

Majority method of voting requires a candidate to secure more than half of the votes in a given position.

Cumulative method of voting, per the Texas Education Code, requires that all positions that are to be filled, be voted on as one race by all the voters of the school district. Every eligible voter is permitted to cast a number of votes equal to the number of positions to be filled at the election. A voter can cast one or more of the specified number of votes for any one or more candidates in any combination. The candidates receiving the highest number of votes are elected.

Unsure which method of voting is used in your Texas public school district? Consult your local board policy, or contact your school district’s elections administrator to find out.

The Politicization of Texas Public School Boards

Texas has been at the center of the culture war crusades over textbooks and curriculums for decades. Since 2020, battles that were previously primarily contained to meetings of The State Board of Education and the Texas Education Administration seem to be seeping into local school board elections and meetings. Activists championing "parents' rights" are fighting off the removal of books they deem "inappropriate" and "obscene." However, data published by PEN America shows the majority of book being banned center themes of "race or racism or featuring characters of color, as well as books with LGBTQ+ characters." 

The individuals and groups waging war on books see themselves as fighting a holy war. A war in which libraries are arsenals and books are weapons. 

Texas school board races have become increasingly partisan as politicians and political action committees, largely backed by an elite group of Texas billionaires who support the privatization of the education system, have thrown their influence, dollars and endorsements behind local candidates running for trustee positions.

How to Identify Book Friendly School Board Candidates

Keep an eye on the campaign finance reports, which every trustee must file 30 days and 8 days prior to election day. These reports should be posted to your school district’s website, usually on a page dedicated to election information where each candidate’s filing, treasurer and ethics paperwork are also filed. Pay special attention to the sections of the finance report titled “Notice from Political Committee(s).” This is where trustee candidates, and trustees, must disclose cash contributions received from PACs.

Additionally, pay attention to what organizations and groups are publicly endorsing candidates. Groups like Moms for America, The Republican Party of Texas and Texans for Educational Freedom have PAC arms that endorse candidates who run on platforms they support- which tend to be in favor of book bans and censorship under the guise of "protecting children" and "parents' rights." 

Look up any known political committees listed on campaign finance reports, or groups making public endorsements, on websites like Transparencyusa to look for links to donors who may have links to hyper-partisan agendas and beware of any that have ties to organizations that advocate for censorship of books. 

Finally, our favorite resource to find well researched, objective information about where school board candidates stand on book bans, is Frank Strong's Book Loving Texan's Guide to School Board Elections.*** You can find the most recent guide pinned to the top of his Twitter/X thread.

***Full disclosure, Frank is one of Texas Freedom to Read Project's co-directors so we admittedly hold our own (favorable) bias towards Frank and his work. The candidates featured in his voter's guide are not endorsements of any particular candidates, as he often highlights more than one book loving candidate in a race. It is simply a resource Book Lovers can use to help determine the candidates who most align with their book loving values. As with any guide, you should absolutely do your own research and ultimately make your own decisions.

Register to Vote in Texas

Remember, you must be registered and have an up to date, active voter registration in order to vote in your local Texas school board election. Visit https://www.votetexas.gov to check your registration, update it, or to register for the first time. 

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