School board members across Indiana on Tuesday voiced opposition to a Republican-backed proposal that would add political party identifications to what are now non-partisan school board elections statewide.
The bill’s mover, Representative JD Prescott, of R-Union City, said the impetus for the bill came from voters’ demands for more transparency on the part of school board members.
He argued during a hearing on the bill at Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday that knowing a candidate’s party affiliation will help voters know where a school board candidate stands “on the political spectrum. “and how they perceive national problems. Presidents of political parties will also help recruit more candidates and lead to greater engagement in the electoral process, Prescott said.
“School boards manage one of the largest budgets with our locally elected office,” Prescott said. “When I look at Republicans or Democrats, I think you can tell the difference between fiscal responsibility and moral character in some cases. “
Candidates running for school boards would be required to identify as a Republican, Democrat or Independent, depending on the law.
Currently, Indiana is one of 42 states where local school board elections are held without any party identification on the candidates’ ballots.
More than a dozen Indiana District School Board members, however, rejected the plan, arguing that such measures would needlessly further embed politics into decisions of local schools.
Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said the policy could undermine the ability of school boards “to put children first” and make school board members “feel conflicted over their allegiance “.
Spradlin said the School Boards Association recommends instead moving to a hybrid system, where local voters decide whether or not to create a partisan school board for their school district.
“We believe that school board candidates should be elected on their qualifications, merits, experience and platform, regardless of their political party affiliation. School boards are not immune to political conflict… but inviting politics into the boardroom… could have the unintended consequence of fueling more such conflicts, ”Spradlin said. “There is no Democratic or Republican way to transport and feed children, pay bills, plan facility upgrades, or approve school calendars.”
Adam Burtner, director of government affairs for the Indy Chamber, said partisan school board elections would shift electoral responsibility from “committed voters and parents” to “political parties and apparatuses”. This change could jeopardize non-partisan business interests and global innovation in Indianapolis, he added.
“It’s our point of view, and frankly our fear, that it will deter thoughtful and qualified candidates from running and set our school districts down a path of more partisan division and toxicity, and less results. positive for Hoosier students, ”Burtner said.
John O’Neill of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, further said the House bill would make school board elections “beholden” to the influence of party leaders. The system in place works, he said, with “open dialogue, debate and problem solving” already taking place in open forums at board meetings.
“It is unwise to assume that every local education problem can be grasped by dividing the councils into dichotomous, ideological or partisan sides,” O’Neill said. “We believe this bill will only bring more polarization to schools at a time when communities, schools and families have been torn apart by pandemic battles over masking and vaccines, curriculum issues and other political divisions. ”
The bill did not leave the House Elections Committee on Tuesday. Committee chair Representative Tim Wesco said the proposal will stand and no date has been set for a vote that could move the bill to the entire House.
Six more bills to change school board elections have been introduced in the House and Senate, although no hearings have been scheduled for these proposals so far.
The bills come amid complaints from conservatives across the country about public schools and unrest in some Indiana school districts over topics ranging from COVID-19 mask warrants to teaching the racial injustice.
Republican lawmakers in Indiana are now reviewing measures they believe will give parents more influence over what happens in classrooms.
State legislative leaders are further touting bills that would increase transparency with parents’ access to classroom materials, ban the teaching of “discriminatory concepts” in classrooms, and allow parents to remove their students from school. face mask or vaccine requirements.