All 421 school districts in Wisconsin held at least one election on April 4. Here is a closer look at what that election means both locally and nationally. In total, 954 of the state’s 2,794 school board seats, around 35%, were on the ballot.
Here is a look at how incumbents performed in the elections.
- Open seats and incumbent defeats mirrored historical averages.
- Top liberal endorsers had 73% win rate compared to 48% for top conservative groups
Open seats and incumbents
Of the 954 school board seats up for election in Wisconsin, 690 incumbents (72%) ran for re-election, leaving 264 seats (28%) open. Open seats are guaranteed to newcomers.
Of the 690 incumbents who ran for re-election, 615 (89%) won, and 75 (11%) lost. Three incumbents lost in primaries held on Feb. 21, and the remaining 72 incumbents lost in the general election. Wisconsin’s 11% incumbent loss rate was below the five-year average of 16% we’ve observed nationwide.
The number of open seat races in Wisconsin was similar to nationwide school board election coverage. The difference in Wisconsin is that slightly more incumbents ran for re-election than we’ve seen nationally. Between 2018 and 2022, an average of 71% of incumbents ran for re-election, leaving 29% of seats open.
One reason so many incumbents won re-election is that 60% ran unopposed, guaranteeing their victory. This is almost double the 36% rate of unopposed incumbents we typically see nationwide for school board elections.
Only 278 incumbents faced challengers. When looking only at contested elections, the loss rate increases from 11% to 27%, mirroring the historical average of 26%.
Most school board elections are nonpartisan, but that hasn’t stopped local, state, and national organizations, many of which are explicitly ideological or aligned with political parties, from endorsing school board candidates. As part of our school board coverage, we are gathering descriptive endorsements, those that help describe the stances or policy positions of a candidate. This is based on the assumption that endorsers tend to endorse candidates with whom they align.
Our endorsements research process starts with analyzing news stories, conducting outreach, and talking with candidates. When we find an endorsement, we tag it as either liberal or conservative based on whether it comes from an organization affiliated with a major party or one that supports education policies associated with a major party.
The top liberal endorsers in Wisconsin were:
- Local affiliates of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a teacher’s union;
- The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO and its affiliates;
- The Democratic Party of Wisconsin and its affiliates;
- Blue Sky Waukesha, a group in Waukesha County; and
- Fair Wisconsin, an LGBTQ advocacy group.
The top conservative endorsers in Wisconsin were:
- The Republican Party of Wisconsin and its affiliates;
- Moms for Liberty and its affiliates;
- Get Involved Wisconsin, a voter mobilization group;
- 1776 Project PAC; and,
- WisRed PAC, a group in Waukesha County.
Among the liberal endorsers, all but Blue Sky Waukesha had win rates greater than 50%. For conservative endorsers, only WisRed PAC had a win rate greater than 50%.
All 10 endorsers made endorsements in uncontested races. For the state GOP and Moms for Liberty, those uncontested endorsements resulted in overall win rates greater than 50%.
While these 10 groups made a total of 627 endorsements, many of those endorsements crossed ideological lines. These endorsements all went to 286 candidates in 114 races, around 55% of all contested elections and 20% of all elections, overall. Of those 286 candidates, 166 (58%) received endorsements from more than one of the top 10 endorsers.
Produced in association with Ballotpedia
Edited by Arnab Nandy and Virginia Van Zandt