Columns | Daily Chronicle

Do your homework for school, library board elections

As leaders of AAUW IL (American Association of University Women), we are concerned about the impact the upcoming school and library board elections will have on our state – and our ability to provide access and equity in education and knowledge for all students and families.

Public schools and libraries are vital institutions in our democratic society. Open forums hosted by civic groups, as well as questionnaires and endorsements from local media outlets (including Shaw Local News Network), have provided local voters with an opportunity to learn about candidates, their qualifications and experience. Trust and transparency were once hallmarks of these nonpartisan races. While voter turnout was often low, community members could have some measure of confidence that elected candidates would prioritize the broader needs and interests of local students and residents over their own political beliefs or influence from outside groups seeking to advance a partisan agenda.

Unfortunately, things have changed, and not for the better. In too many of our communities, outside organizations have been making investments in candidates and campaigns that disguise an agenda, including book-banning and sanitized history behind a façade of apple-pie Americana. These candidates speak in euphemisms about their commitment to parental rights and quality education, while avoiding the public forums and engagement that shine a light on their polarized political views.

The sad reality is that previously accepted norms around school and library board elections no longer apply. This is why voters have a responsibility to do their homework before casting ballots in these vitally important elections. Here are some tips:

• Seek out information and resources from trusted organizations, such as the League of Women Voters nonpartisan guide, local newspaper candidate interviews, and endorsements from statewide and community organizations with a clear commitment to public schools and libraries. Consider how candidates address specific topics and concerns. Pay attention to which candidates do not participate in these opportunities – and ask yourself, “Why?”

• Closely review candidates’ websites, social media channels, campaign materials and public statements, during, but also prior to the campaign. Analyze their organizational affiliations and who has been financially supporting them. Use resources, like the Illinois Families for Public School website, to learn about out-of-state organizations that have become interested and invested heavily in our local school and library board elections. Again, ask yourself, “Why?”

• Gather information from friends, family members and neighbors about the candidates. Review local media coverage to learn more about recent issues and decisions made by your school and library boards. Use your knowledge of the community to select the candidates who will best represent the broader needs and interests of all students, their families and residents.

• Find your sample ballot online, so you know exactly what names will be listed and how many seats are open. Based on your research, vote only for candidates whose views and values support access and opportunity to education and information for all. Do not vote for a candidate you don’t know or haven’t researched just to fill an open spot. Make a voting plan – whether in-person, by mail, or through county drop-boxes.

Our public schools and libraries must continue to provide opportunities for all to grow and learn about ourselves, our community and the world around us. We encourage all Illinois residents to ensure they are prepared and informed when voting on April 4.

Paula Purdue and Tracey Sherman-Falcon are public policy co-chairs for AAUW IL. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, AAUW works to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education, and advocacy. Founded in 1881, AAUW is the oldest women’s organization in the United States.