National School Boards Association Could Take Million-Dollar Financial Hit as State Chapters Withdraw

By Bill Pan
Bill Pan
Bill Pan
December 7, 2021 Updated: December 8, 2021

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) could lose more than a million dollars in funding, as state chapters ended their membership and stopped paying dues in the backlash against a letter likening parents’ protests to domestic terrorism.

In its Sept. 29 letter (pdf) to President Joe Biden, the NSBA characterized disruptions at school board meetings as “a form of domestic terrorism and hate crime.” The organization also urged the federal government to invoke counterterrorism laws to quell “angry mobs” of parents seeking to hold school officials accountable for teaching the Marxism-rooted critical race theory and for imposing COVID-19 restrictions such as mask mandates on their children.

Although the NSBA offered an apology for “some of the language” used in the widely criticized letter, the fallout continued. As of this Monday, 27 state school board associations have distanced themselves from the national federation, saying they were not consulted or informed on the letter’s content. Seventeen of them have terminated their membership, citing disagreements over the characterization of school board meeting disruptions, or the idea that federal intervention is need in handling those disruptions, or both.

These 17 chapters collectively contributed $1.1 million to NSBA’s funding in 2019, according to NSBA records (pdf) presented during a recent meeting with the Florida School Board Association, which also has severed ties with the national group. This accounted for 42 percent of the $2.6 million annual dues paid to the NSBA by all 49 state chapters in that year.

The state chapter departures would likely cost the NSBA more than the $1.1 million in annual dues, according to Axios, who obtained the documents. The outlet noted that these chapters had been financially supporting the NSBA in many other ways, such as subsidizing its programs and events.

For example, the Montana School Boards Association (MSBA), which discontinued its membership in November, originally budgeted to pay $68,666 as dues for 2021-2022 but had planned to invest in NSBA nearly $180,000 in total, Axios noted, citing an internal memo (pdf). The extra expenses included $27,000 for an NSBA regional conference, $21,000 for NSBA’s advocacy institute, $35,000 for NSBA annual meeting, and $28,000 for NSBA staff professional development.

The NSBA document also included a list of concerns raised by state chapters prior to the letter to Biden. Some of the most common concerns involved issues related to governance, finance, and the value of membership.

Several states claimed in their exit announcements that the NSBA has done little to address those concerns. In an Oct. 20 statement regarding the “domestic terrorism” letter, the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) said this was not the first disagreement it has had with NSBA, and that its board of directors had been reconsidering its relationship with NSBA before the controversy.

“IASB previously expressed concerns to NSBA about problems related to governance, transparency, and financial oversight,” it said. “IASB suspended payment of dues to NSBA for 2021-2022, and sought to address these concerns through changes to the governance structure of the national association.”

The NSBA didn’t respond to a request for comment, but a spokesperson told Axios that the organization’s 2019 finances does “not reflect the complete or current state of affairs for NSBA,” and that it “continues to have the resources we need to be effective on behalf of our members.”

Meanwhile, some of the departed state chapters are exploring forming an alternative organization that can advocate for their interests at a national level.

“With an investment available on par with what we are currently spending on engagement in NSBA, we could viably recreate these services through another mechanism in collaboration with others,” the MSBA wrote in its memo.

Bill Pan