Utah Ruling Highlights Sticky Issue of Partisan School Board Elections

By Daarel Burnette II — December 21, 2017 1 min read
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An appelate state judge in Utah last week struck downunder Utah’s constititution a law that made that state’s board of education partisan. A group of education advocates argued that anyone employed by the state’s public schools can’t run on party tickets according to the constitution, an argument the judge agreed with. The state’s legislature, which passed the law in 2016, could appeal the ruling.

Across the nation, education is being swept up into the increased polarization of American politics. Public battles over the Common Core State Standards, charter schools, and who calls the shots on state K-12 policy often break down along Republican and Democratic fault lines.

But in most places, the technocrats in charge of education—the local and state board members and district superintendents—are by and large apolitical.

This tradition stems from a turn-of-the-century effort to flush party politics and its corrupt culture out of school districts.

A growing effort now is sweeping across the nation to reverse course.

Last week, Education Week published my profile of a fight in North Carolina to force candidates for local school boards to run on a party ticket. From my story:

Driving the debate is whether state or local officials should determine how school boards members are elected, whether partisan elections change who gets elected, and whether there is, ultimately, a “Democratic” or “Republican” way to run a school district.

North Carolina isn’t alone. Legislators in Florida, Indiana, Kansas, and Tennessee have all asked in some form for their local school board candidates to run on a party ticket.

My colleague Denisa Superville profiled California where a fight is underway to get school boards to better reflect the communities they serve.

I encourage you to check both stories out.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.