CLEO to Partner with School Boards for Academic Excellence

Academic achievement is no longer a priority in many school districts around the country. Unfortunately, many school boards veer from their main mission of academic excellence and have become preoccupied with pursuing cultural issues such as gender, social justice and equity. In many districts, there is more focus on critical race theory than critical thinking.

As a result, most students are not ready to enter college or the workforce because K-12 schools have turned their focus away from the essentials of reading, writing and arithmetic. This is not lost on the tens of thousands of parents and education advocates who are concerned about these trends.

In response, many of these brave parents and citizens have run for their local school boards and won. What began as an organic movement across the country is now going to be strengthened by a new organization, School Boards for Academic Excellence (SBAE), formed to bring together and support non-partisan, reform-minded nascent school boards associations focused on academic excellence while protecting parental rights.

SBAE has a vision of an American education system focused squarely on elevated education and student achievement, ensuring that every child, regardless of circumstance, is equipped to reach their highest potential.

SBAE will support groups of parents, community members and other concerned citizens — including former educators and elected officials — who are committed to bringing academic excellence back to education.

California Policy Center’s California Local Elected Officials (CLEO) project is proud to partner with and provide support to the SBAE network. CLEO offers policy guidance, detailed financial analyses, legal perspectives and communications assistance to local elected officials, empowering them to govern more effectively. CLEO will work with other like-minded associations throughout the country that prioritize academic achievement to provide support and resources for reform-minded school board members under the SBAE umbrella.

The same day I was sworn in as a trustee to the Orange County Board of Education in 2018, I was elected to the executive committee of our board. I was figuring out how to lead our board to best represent the students and families of Orange County on the fly. Fortunately, I had CLEO as a resource to guide me away from the influence of the establishment and big government who do not prioritize students or academic achievement. Now, as the director of CLEO, it is so exciting to be part of SBAE as we provide this type of invaluable support to school board members across the country.

Although we are seeing expanded school choice in many parts of the country, the majority of students are stuck without options in local districts under their local school board. The SBAE network, including CLEO, believes strongly that local school board members will be the best vehicle to repair education in their districts so that students have the opportunity to reach their highest potential regardless of their zip code.


Mari Barke is the director of California Local Elected Officials (CLEO).

California Local Elected Officials (CLEO) is a membership organization that networks, educates, supports and advises local elected officials throughout California’s thousands of cities, counties, school and special districts. CLEO offers policy guidance, detailed financial analyses, legal perspectives and communications assistance to our members on principled governance. Find out more at

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