***Note: this bill has been substituted, this analysis may no longer be valid***
The idea of partisan school board elections is nothing new at the Utah State Legislature. Last year, for example, we noted that Representative Brian Greene (Republican – Pleasant Grove) proposed HB 228 – Utah State Board of Education Elections and Reporting Amendments. This year, the issue has been resurrected by freshman senator, Alvin Jackson (Republican – Highland) with SB 104 – Education Elections and Reporting Amendments.
As one might suspect, Jackson’s bill removes the requirement wherein ballots for school board remain nonpartisan.
As we noted last year, proponents for partisan school board elections claim that opening the door to partisan elections for school boards 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.
In many ways, our analysis remains similar to last years, if only because both the intent and the outcome appear the same.
Jackson’s proposal poses many potential problems for education in the state going forward.
The practical reality of such legislation, at least for the foreseeable future, is that state and local school boards become packed with Republicans. Though it is difficult not to imagine that school boards largely reflect partisan politics statewide currently, there at least exists some protections from intraparty politics under the status quo. By shifting towards partisan elections of school boards, it is not unreasonable to expect more and more extreme candidates run and win school board races – in turn creating more and more extreme standards for our schools.
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. Several issues, such as evolution, sex education, and Common Core should be decided by educators, not want-to-be politicians with potentially higher aspirations, using our children’s minds as a way to score quick political points.
Of course, that is the exact intent of such legislation. Our schools are a battleground of ideology and idealism where the educational decisions made, can literally shape the way a person thinks for the rest of their life. By having partisan elections in this state, Jackson is attempting (whether knowingly or not) to ensure that good, solid, conservative principals are instilled in our children.
To be clear, this is not a good or a bad statement – but conservatives should consider how they would feel if the shoe was on the other foot, and that Utah was a liberal state that was attempting to pack school boards with far left candidates. No doubt there would be outrage at the thought of politicizing school boards by conservatives if this were the case.
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, Jackson is courting disaster in our education system and diving head long into a system that should be free from politics.
But Johnson’s legislation doesn’t end there. Under the proposed legislation, Johnson would also remove the current nomination process for how candidates appear on the ballot for state school board. Though there are many steps to the process, the short answer to “how does one appear on the ballot for state school board” is that the governor needs to pick to candidates based on committee recommendations.
There are fewer objections to this particular section of the bill, as there are reasonable arguments to be had on both sides of the current policy. Advocates say that the selection process helps weed out unqualified individuals while a change would allow more citizen control over education. To this end, both sides are right – but it is worth noting that this proposal was similar to legislation proposed by former Representative Jim Nielson with HB 223 – School Board Elections Provisions.
It is worth noting that Greene’s bill died in the House by a vote of 33-41 while Nielson’s failed in a Senate committee.
Ultimately, state policymakers should consider what is truly in the best interest of children as they receive their schooling. In education, truth should be the guiding light – not partisan positions.
To contact Senator Jackson, click here or call 801-216-4479.
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