Effort to make Indiana school board elections politically partisan dies in House

Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, authored a bill on partisan school board elections that died Feb. 27, 2023. (Courtesy of Prescott Flickr)

A bill that would have let Hoosier communities decide if local school board elections should be partisan died in the Indiana House after lawmakers failed to vote on the measure by Monday’s deadline.

That means school board races will stay non-partisan—at least for now. Language from the bill could still crop up in others before the end of the current legislative session.

House Bill 1428, authored by Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, sought to add political party identifications to what are now nonpartisan school board elections throughout the state. The legislation was the first to extend “local control” over the issue.

Monday was the deadline for House bills to pass out of the chamber. Prescott did not call the bill for a full chamber vote, however, likely indicating a lack of support from the House Republican caucus.

GOP House Speaker Todd Huston expressed support for optional partisan school board races earlier this month, but noted that members of his caucus are “all across the spectrum” on Prescott’s proposal — “This is one of those bills that doesn’t split along party lines,” Huston said.

Multiple other versions of the bill circulated through the Indiana Statehouse this year and last, to no avail.

A separate proposal that died earlier in the current session would have instead created a blanket requirement for school board candidates to identify as a Republican, Democrat or Independent.

Currently, Indiana is among 41 states where local school board elections are held without any party identification on the ballot for candidates.

The move for partisan school boards bubbled up after local fights over COVID-19 protocols, race issues and book bans.

Latest version of the bill

The latest version of the bill would have given Hoosier communities two options to trigger a referendum vote.

One provision said sitting school board members could decide on their own to vote for their seats to become partisan. But local voters still get the final say. According to the bill, school boards could have taken that action as early as Jan. 1, 2024.

Another option would have permitted the decision to be made through a petition process requiring signatures of 500 voters or 5% of voters in the district, whichever is lesser. A successful petition would put the question on the ballot.

But locals also had the option to do nothing at all, meaning school board elections in a particular district would remain nonpartisan. That was the default option laid out in the bill.

Updated language in the bill clarified that Libertarians and other third-party candidates could run, as long as they declare their party affiliation.

Voters would also have been required to choose, individually, school board members on ballots — a straight-ticket option wouldn’t be available.

Whether through a school board vote or voter-led public question, school board candidates would have had to run in partisan primaries in order to be nominated for the general election, or forgo a primary altogether but have to use a partisan label in the general election.

To claim a party, school board candidates further must have voted that way in the last two primaries in which that person voted.

Candidates for school board additionally could not work for that school corporation, according to the bill.

A school board or community would have been forced to wait 10 years between any public questions if they later changed their minds and wanted to opt-out of partisan school board races.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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13 thoughts on “Effort to make Indiana school board elections politically partisan dies in House

    1. A bad bill from a bad legislator. We need less party affiliation, not more, in politics.

      With the right to vote comes the responsibility to be informed. If you can’t research a candidate and not know how to vote without a brand label, either they’re not a candidate worthy of your vote or maybe you shouldn’t be a low information voter.

    2. Joe B.
      You just described the problem in Dem Party.
      The Dems constantly pressuring young people to vote
      that are not informed or interested. It’s rediculious and
      not good for our democracy.

    3. If that’s the case, wouldn’t Democrats be pushing for labels too so their low information voters know who to vote for?

      Considering what most school boards do is execute what’s handed down and mandates by the state of Indiana, I think it’s pretty funny that people think the issue with education is local school boards.

      It’s almost as though state legislators… who’ve been in control for two decades now … have to find someone else to blame for dismal education results. And they’ve decided on school boards, because heaven forbid we blame legislators!

    4. Plenty of blame at the state and local levels.

      Hamilton South Eastern is an example of why the state legislature
      wanted the R or D label before each school board candidate’s name.
      Their utter Woke nonsense angered a lot of the community.
      It’s no secret how those who are pushing a radical agenda vote.

      I’m also not letting the R’s off the hook either. This was unneeded

    5. HSE was woke for accepting grant money? That the board had no say in, and the moron board member didn’t even understand her role and point of the school board?

      Woke us the new boogeyman it seems. Not real and used to scare children and the elderly.

    6. Given the inability for most people who win Republican primaries to know how to function once they assume elected office and start working for the behalf of all taxpayers, making local school boards comprised of people whose primary skill is knowing what to do to win a Republican primary seems like a poor way to improve educational outcomes.

      All this change is .. is doubling down on what hasn’t worked for 20 years. The state takeover of education isn’t working.

    1. HSE was woke for accepting grant money? That the board had no say in, and the moron board member didn’t even understand her role and point of the school board?

      Woke us the new boogeyman it seems. Not real and used to scare children and the elderly.

    2. Does the political primary system designed to favor the two major parties, that we pay for out of our pockets, lead to better elected officials and better outcomes for citizens?

      I’d argue it doesn’t. My suggestion would be what Louisiana does – open primary. If any candidate gets 50%, they win the election. If no one gets 50%, take the top two vote getters and have a runoff.