Indiana lawmakers consider tying school board candidates to political party

School board candidates would be required to declare a political party under legislation that Indiana lawmakers are considering, but everyone who testified at the bill’s first hearing on Tuesday opposed the bill.

Bill 1182 would require school board candidates to identify with a political party and include that designation on the ballot. Candidates could register as “independents” if they do not identify as Republicans or Democrats. The bill does not limit the number of candidates from each party who could be included in these races.

The bill’s mover, Representative JD Prescott (R-Union City) said he believed the change would give voters better insight into the beliefs and character of the candidates.

“When I look at Republicans or Democrats, I think you can tell the difference between financial responsibility and moral character in some cases,” he said.

But public comments from school board members, education lobby groups and other Hoosiers across the state rebuffed the idea.

The Indiana School Boards Association has suggested that if communities want this change, they should make this decision locally. The ISBA and others have said that party affiliation may actually reduce voters’ desire or willingness to know more about the candidates and to participate in school board races at the polls.

Many people have said they are concerned that this will reduce the number of people who want or can show up for the school board.

ISBA Executive Director Terry Spradlin pointed out that the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees or the military from running for or serving in partisan political office, so several current serving school board members would be excluded from serving. their functions under the proposed legislation.

“The federal directive is this: if a person is identified as a Republican or a Democrat, it becomes a partisan election, so any candidate on the ballot would be considered a candidate for a partisan office,” he said.

Others pointed out that most school board members want to avoid partisan politics as they govern schools and strive to support students who have no political affiliation.

Duneland School Corporation school board member Brandon Kroft said he was a proud Republican, but explosive political tensions that some school boards have encountered during the pandemic are already scaring people away.

“Forcing a school board member to put an ‘R’ or ‘D’ in front of their name is going to dig the pool again,” he said.

Kroft and others have expressed concern that the bill could also result in partisan choices for school administrators or other key decisions if candidates receive party-affiliated campaign funds.

The chairman of the House Elections and Allocation Committee, Representative Tim Wesco (R-Osceola) is a co-author of the legislation. He and other Republicans on the committee questioned the idea that partisan school board elections would have the negative effects suggested by those who testified.

But some who spoke at the hearing also said they saw the proposal as something that ran counter to past and present efforts by lawmakers to reduce political tensions around K-12 schools in the United States. ‘Indiana.

In 2017, lawmakers passed a law to have the state’s top education official appointed by the governor rather than elected by voters. Wesco, who also co-authored the bill, said his motivation for supporting this change was to find “greater cohesion” between the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana Board of Education. the state – which is largely appointed by the governor. The legislation came after years of tension between former Superintendent of Public Education Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, and former Republican Governor Mike Pence.

Lawmakers are also this year taking into account the legislation who would be limit the way teachers speak on certain political or social issues – something, according to supporters, will help remove political or ideological influence from classrooms.

According to the ISBA, only three states in the country hold partisan school board elections and four others use a “hybrid” system. Spradlin said the group would support changes to the bill that would make the identification of political parties in school board elections a locally decided optional issue rather than a statewide requirement if legislation advances. .

The committee did not vote on the bill.

Contact reporter Jeanie at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.

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