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Forum Editorial: It’s time for North Dakota voters to know who’s donating to school board campaigns

School boards have become ideological battlegrounds. It's important to know who's donating to school board candidates.

Editorial FSA
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Serving on the school board has long been regarded as a civic role that is nonpartisan.

Traditionally, divisive political or ideological debates seldom came before school boards, which oversee budgets, policies and curriculum.

But in the polarized era we find ourselves in, school boards around the country have recently found themselves grappling with very divisive ideological issues.

A short list includes policies involving transgender students, critical race theory and book bannings — lightning rod issues that often are driven by people who have a partisan or ideological agenda to promote.

Opponents say the legislation is censorship

With that in mind, it’s become clear that it’s important to know who is contributing to the campaigns of school board candidates — a reporting requirement that doesn’t now exist in North Dakota, as The Forum pointed out in reporting the Fargo school board race in June.

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Legislation pending before the North Dakota Legislature seeks to change that. House Bill 1257 , a bipartisan bill, would extend campaign finance requirements that now apply to candidates for county offices as well as for cities with a population of 5,000 or more.

School boards with fewer than 750 students would be exempt from the reporting requirement. Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot, is the sole sponsor of House Bill 1116 , which appears to be identically worded.

In North Dakota, campaign reporting requirements for candidates for local office do not require disclosure of contributions of $200 or less.

We know that slick advertising can swing a local election. Advertising campaigns require money. Aggressive campaigns pushing a high-profile issue can involve a lot more money than the yard signs more typical of school board campaigns in years past.

Voters should be able to find out who is donating to the campaigns of school board candidates.

The campaign finance reporting loophole for school board candidates seems to be based on the assumption, once sound, that aspirants didn’t have an ideological ax to grind, but simply wanted to have a say in how their local schools were run.

Sadly, recent events have clearly shown that’s not always the case. We’ve seen how some ideological factions pushing extreme views are turning school boards into battlegrounds.

So it’s more important now than in the past to know who’s bankrolling school board candidates. Some states, including Minnesota, already require disclosure of campaign donations. Moorhead Area Public Schools post the reports online.

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It’s important to require greater transparency by those seeking a seat on the school board. The nine board members overseeing Fargo Public Schools, for example, direct a school system with an annual budget of $164 million serving 11,192 students in 15 elementary schools, three middle schools, three high schools and one alternative high school.

It’s only appropriate that we know who’s backing our school board candidates. Legislators should pass this important sunshine legislation.

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