Partisan School Board Election Bill Advances in Senate

Senator Alvin Jackson (Republican - Highland)
Senator Alvin Jackson (Republican – Highland)

On Tuesday, the Utah Senate voted to advance legislation that would require state school board elections, as well as local school board elections with more than 20,000 voters, to be partisan affairs.

Senator Alvin Jackson (Republican – Highland) noted that a recent court decision found that that Utah’s selection process for school board officials lacked transparency, clarity, and accountability. In particular, Jackson focused on the lack of accountability parents have in the election process of school board officials.

“We all know that nobody knows their children better than their parents, and they have that self-evident right and duty to educate their children,” Jackson told the body, adding that “the issue is that we centralize education and moved away from the decision making for parents at the local level. This piece of legislation attempts to bring accountability back to the parents, as the school board should be accountable to the parents.”

“Our current caucus system affords us the opportunity, and affords parents the opportunity to properly vet the candidates that will serve on the school board,” added Johnson.

Johnson soundly rejected the claim that his bill, SB 104 – Education Elections and Reporting Amendments, would politicize the process of electing school board members, saying that the “beloved” caucus system was best to choose candidates, and best to ensure that school board members reflected the needs and desires of local communities.

Despite Jackson’s claim seconds before that the change wouldn’t politicize the process, the senator would conclude his opening remarks by stating that conservative organizations such as the Eagle Forum, United Women’s Forum, the Utah Association of Charter Schools, the Libertas Institute, and the Sutherland Institute supported his legislation.

Senator Luz Escamillia (Democrat – Salt Lake City) was deeply concerned about the effect SB 104 would have on local school boards, not just state school board elections. She would note that the bill was amended after the fact to rope in local districts as part of partisan elections – something that was not discussed when addressing the concerns raised by the courts.

Senator Evan Vickers (Republican – Cedar City) was also concerned that the legislation had reached too far by adding local districts into the mix and urged the body to refocus on the state school board only.

“I am not sure where we came up [with partisan elections] as the solution,” Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) said, adding that “I think throwing [local school board elections] into the whole Republican, Democrat debate doesn’t solve anything… the issue is, if we have a problem with our school boards, is this the way we want to go? Do we want to make it more partisan?”

Dabakis would add that he feels that the non-partisan election allows the community to choose the best possible candidates while reminding the body that such a move would all but assure that no Republicans would be elected to the Salt Lake City School District.

The body would support the legislation 21-7 with all the Democrats, as well as Senators Vickers, Steve Urquhart (Republican – St. George), and Brian Shiozawa (Republican – Salt Lake City) voting against the legislation. It will receive one final vote in the Senate before potentially advancing to the House.

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