Indiana Republicans back partisan school boards switch

Indiana Republicans forged ahead Wednesday with a proposal that would upend the current nonpartisan school board elections across the state despite opponents arguing the change would further inject politics into local schools.

The Indiana House elections committee voted 6-4 along party lines to endorse a bill to establish a system allowing a decision by each of the state’s nearly 300 school districts on whether to require candidates to declare a political party. Each district’s decision would be made through either a voter referendum or school board vote. It would be up to those votes whether candidates would be required to win a party’s May primary in order to appear on the November general election ballot.

Bill supporters said they believed having candidates identified by political party would give voters more information to consider and increase transparency in what are already often politicized election races.

Some opponents argued allowing a district-by-district decision would lead to a messy patchwork across the state and confuse voters.

A state Senate committee heard testimony last week—but has not yet voted—on a different proposal that would require school board candidates to identify themselves on the ballot by political party or as an independent but not have them run in party primaries.

Other bills in recent years calling for partisan school board elections in Indiana haven’t advanced in the Republican-dominated Legislature. Those elections, however, have gained more attention across the country as parents raised complaints over issues such as COVID-19 policies, classroom discussions of race and sexuality and the removal of offending books.

Greg Brown, who was endorsed by the local Republican Party in winning a Carmel School Board seat last year, spoke in support of the switch to partisan elections before both the House and Senate committees. He argued that party affiliation was important information for voters who he said often told him that they didn’t know much about the candidates.

“They would frequently ask me, ‘What party are you in?’ And I tell them and they’d say, ‘That’s good enough for me,’ so it’s an important filter,” Brown said.

The Indiana School Boards Association and the Indiana State Teachers Association are among education groups opposed to the change, voicing concerns about increased partisanship and the longstanding difficulties of finding candidates willing to run in smaller districts.

Several current school board members said they didn’t know the political leanings of others on their boards and worried partisan elections would make board members beholden to political parties.

“If we were required to have partisan school board elections, I believe it’s possible that pressure could be applied in regarding who we would hire and how we would be expected to vote at school board meetings,” said Linda Singer, who said she’s been a member of Howard County’s Western School Board for 39 years.

Some supporters of partisan elections argued that the current system allowed groups to “shroud leftist candidates” and let those running for board positions withhold information about themselves from voters. At least nine states now have some form of partisan local school board elections, advocates said.

Michael Morris, of the conservative group Lafayette Citizens in Action, called partisan labels “truth in advertising” for school board candidates.

“From what I can tell, that will result in more robust school boards who will be more proactive about looking into curriculum and administration,” Morris said.

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15 thoughts on “Indiana Republicans back partisan school boards switch

  1. All elections should be nonpartisan. If you can’t figure out how to vote without a party affiliation… maybe you just aren’t spending the time to be educated and you shouldn’t be voting.

  2. How many parents are actually unhappy?

    “It would be nice if state legislators read the results of a recent survey of Hoosier parents conducted for the Indiana Department of Education. It would be even better if they took them to heart.

    If they did read the results, here’s what they would learn:

    * Indiana parents are happy with their children’s schools. A remarkable 88% said they were satisfied with the quality of their child’s school. Figures were even higher for some groups: 90% for parents of elementary children and 96% in rural areas and small towns.

    * Parents know what schools are teaching and support it: 81% say they know what their children are learning in school, and 78% say they agree with it.

    * Those who disagree with what schools are teaching are a tiny minority of parents. Only 7% don’t approve of what the schools teach, and two-thirds of those admit they don’t know what that is. In other words, “I don’t know what they’re teaching but, whatever it is, I don’t like it.””

  3. What’s interesting is that citizens can force this on the ballot with a very small number of voters:

    “A third option would permit 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“.

    So we can let 500 voters force a referendum on partisan school board elections … but we couldn’t do a referendum on abortion.

    Also, there’s no mechanism for rolling back these changes if they’re implemented and citizens realize they made a mistake… and the bill also bans school district employees from running for office.

  4. Growing up, I was always taught that the Republican Party was the party of “less government”. The last few years, especially, have shown this to be completely inaccurate. The Republican Party now clearly wants control over every facet of our lives.

  5. Lower the bar and raising it at the same time.

    Lowering it, because primaries turn out the more extreme voters I think you will get partisan candidates with culture war issues. It is a proven fact of the primary election system.

    Raising the bar, because now, a candidate will have to go through two election cycles.

    This is another solution in search of real problem. It makes no sense. It is a waste of time and money.