Another viewpoint: GOP won’t let go of effort to infuse politics into schools

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(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

Hoosiers are not clamoring to let political parties control their local school board elections.

Instead, the effort to fully politicize oversight of Indiana’s community schools is being pushed by a faction in the national Republican Party. It is meant to spread the GOP’s reach into local classrooms.

House Bill 1428 puts the national Republican Party a step closer toward its bosses dictating support of certain school board candidates and the decisions made once they get elected. Indiana’s history of nonpartisan school board elections would end and be replaced by a patchwork system. Each of Indiana’s 300 school districts would have to decide whether to do what the GOP wants – require school board candidates to wear a political party label – or to keep the nonpartisan format. Districts would make that decision through a voter referendum or through the school board.

The Indiana House’s elections committee voted 6-4 along party lines Wednesday to endorse and advance the bill.

The element of allowing local districts to decide whether to politicize school board elections is slightly more palatable than similar bills that would force every Hoosier school board candidate to pick a party or take on the uphill task of running as an independent. Neither version is necessary, though.

“This bill is a solution looking for a problem,” said Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, in testimony before the committee Wednesday, as reported by the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

Indiana’s existing system of nonpartisan school board elections allows people who are not overtly political to serve in that job. Voters base their decisions on candidates’ comments and stances on issues, shared in public forums, candidate interviews and neighborhood interactions. The claim that attaching a party label to these folks will increase “transparency” is a ruse. Party affiliations would box candidates into a set of stances dictated by party bosses.

It also is quite likely that many partisan school board candidates would skip popular candidate forums, just as many Republicans in partisan races do now. Voters’ knowledge of such candidates would then be limited to an “R” or “D” — essentially a stereotype.

Partisan school boards also could base hiring decisions on the suspected party affiliations of teachers, principals, counselors and other staff.

It is fascinating, too, that the Republicans are offering to allow a decision on adopting partisan school board elections to be made on a local level. That same party, which holds supermajority dominance in the Indiana General Assembly, has for years rejected attempts by cities and counties to adopt their own ordinances on plastic bags, gun violence, the minimum wage, housing and other local real issues because a “patchwork” of local rules would “confuse” people.

But in this case, a patchwork is apparently OK.

Lawmakers are pushing this idea forward to follow a national party plan to further social wars meant to inflame voters. Average Hoosiers are not asking for this. People in several states – Florida, Arkansas, Montana, Kentucky and others – are getting drawn into the scheme, too.

Currently, 41 states maintain nonpartisan school board elections. There is no good reason for Indiana to drop off that list.