No partisan school board elections – for now

Here’s a rare bit of good news from the Indiana Statehouse: Lawmakers have dropped their effort to turn local school board elections into partisan affairs. At least for now.

Republican legislators filed seven bills – five in the House and two in the Senate – to either require school board candidates to declare a party affiliation or give them that option. Only one bill was given a hearing, however, and it was never called for a vote. That means the bills are dead for this session.

In their place, both the House and Senate have advanced legislation to require school boards – but not other local government boards – to allow public comment during their meetings.

The partisan election measures appeared to be a priority for Indiana Republicans, who may have seen them as a tool to motivate voters who were agitated about mask mandates, “critical race theory” and other issues. But the idea never seemed to generate support from ordinary voters, regardless of party.

House Bill 1182, which would have put the political affiliation of school board candidates on the ballot, got a hearing Jan. 11 before the House Elections and Apportionment Committee. Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, the bill’s author, said it would promote transparency and accountability in elections. In a statement that no doubt offended his Democratic colleagues, he said a party label would give voters information about a candidate’s “financial responsibility and moral character.”

But about 20 individuals and groups provided testimony against the bill, including education and business organizations. No member of the public spoke in favor.

“We believe candidates for school board should be elected on their qualifications, merits, experience and platform, no matter their political party affiliation,” Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, told the committee.

Spradlin said the Hatch Act, which bars certain federal employees from engaging in partisan politics, would prevent some school board members from seeking re-election if the bill passed. Indiana, like most states, now has nonpartisan school board elections. Only three states require partisan elections.

Despite having a hearing on the bill early in the session, the chairman of the Elections and Apportionment Committee, Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, didn’t schedule it for a vote.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed SB 83 and the House passed HB 1130, both of which would require school boards to allow public comment and restrict the circumstances in which boards could meet virtually. HB 1130 says audience members must be allowed to speak for three minutes. Some boards, including Carmel Clay Schools, had restricted public comment because of disruptions.

Spradlin said the school boards association is working with lawmakers to clarify some of the language of the bills but supports public comment and doesn’t object to the basic idea, provided board presidents can manage meetings.

1 thought on “No partisan school board elections – for now

  1. Pingback: Session could have been worse for education | School Matters

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