Flagged Bills: HB 223 – School Board Elections Provisions, Rep. Nielson & HB 228 – Utah State Board of Education Elections and Reporting Amendments, Rep. Greene

Left: Representative Jim Nielson (Republican - Bountiful). Right: Representative Brian Greene (Republican - Pleasant Grove)

Left: Representative Jim Nielson (Republican – Bountiful). Right: Representative Brian Greene (Republican – Pleasant Grove)

***Note: HB 228 has been substituted, the analysis may no longer be valid***

Over the last several sessions, the issue of electing school board officials has become a topic of fierce debate. Lawmakers have attempted to make elections for the office partisan, and fundamentally change how candidates appear on the ballot.

Proponents for partisan school board elections claim that it will give voters a better understanding of where a candidate will fall on educational issues, while opponents argue that it is a way to politicize an office that should be focused on education, not the constant and daily back and forth of party politics.

Likewise, many have argued that the process by which a person appears on the ballot as a potential state school board member is complex and flawed. Currently, those wishing to run for the state school board (not local school boards) must be nominated by a school board nominating and recruiting committee. This committee is comprised of members of the various major industries of Utah, and also include representatives from the education sector—such as teachers and parents. Once formed, the committee will look at the list of those wishing to run from any particular district, and then present a list of three candidates for each position to the governor. The governor then selects the two candidates who will appear on the ballot.

Supporters of the process claim the rigorous screening ensures that only highly-qualified individuals make the cut and, in turn, will make education decisions based on experience rather than the political whims of the day. Opponents fire back that the process is not truly democratic, and places too much power in the hands of the 12 person committee and the partisan office of the governor.

Representative Jim Nielson (Republican – Bountiful) is proposing a bill that would split the difference with HB 223 – School Board Elections Provisions.

In an effort to change the electoral process without ruffling all feathers, Nielson proposes that the governor and selection committee be removed from the process entirely, going instead to a general election system. The compromise is that these races will remain nonpartisan, so that decisions on controversial issues such Common Core, private vs publican education, etc., are more academic in nature than political.

Representative Brian Greene (Republican – Pleasant Grove) is proposing a similar measure with HB 228 – Utah State Board of Education Elections and Reporting Amendments – the main difference between his and Nielson’s bill being that Greene’s proposal would make state school board positions partisan, forcing candidates to declare Democrat or Republican positions (like Nielson’s bill, it would also eliminate the committee and governor from the process).

Greene’s proposal poses more potential problems for education in the future. One of the ideals behind education and knowledge is that it seeks truth, even if that truth is opposed to your view of the world. We can’t pretend that school board members are free from bias, but by purposely and intentionally introducing bias into the system by making the office partisan, Greene could be creating a recipe for educational disaster.

Removal of the selection board would also foster this potential hazard, though a drift towards bias and away from “truth” is more easily diverted so long as voters place an emphasis on electing qualified individuals rather than popular ones.

To contact Representative Nielson, click here or call 801-550-3474. To contact Representative Greene, click here or call 801-889-5693

Rep. Nielson’s HB 223

Impact on Average Utahn
High Impact   5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0   No Impact

Need for Legislation
Necessary   5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0   Unnecessary

Lemon Score
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker

Rep. Greene’s HB 228

Impact on Average Utahn
High Impact   5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0   No Impact

Need for Legislation
Necessary   5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0   Unnecessary

Lemon Score
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker

You can track this, and all of our other flagged bills, by clicking here. Need an explanation of scores? Click Here.

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