It’s almost universally agreed that the current method for selecting the Utah State Board of Education is flawed. The Legislature has yet to determine what should replace the current system, ruled by Judge Waddoups to be unconstitutional, and I expect that the Legislature will very likely change the process in the upcoming session.
When it does, I believe the Legislature should adopt partisan elections and for several good reasons:
- The size of State School Board districts makes it almost impossible for a candidate to campaign in a productive way with the voters of their district.
- In addition, it’s difficult for candidates to raise the resources to effectively campaign.
The current system acknowledges these challenges, but leaves the vetting process to a handful of individuals that are not beholden to voters. As many know, these individuals (six from public education and six from business communities) come with biases rooted in their selection for the committee.
It’s time that we put that vetting process back into the hands of the voters. By making the selection process partisan, candidates will be required to openly state positions and ideas about how they would vote and what they hope to accomplish on the board. In addition, elected members will have ongoing accountability to party delegates as they consider making policy decisions. This applies to both sides of the aisle.
I often hear concerns that partisan elections will bring too much politics into the classroom. Unfortunately, I think most would agree that is already happening.
I often hear that candidates will tow the party lines if we go partisan. That argument fails by just looking at our current partisan races. Much like the Legislature, you’ll have a broad spectrum of views from candidates, even within each party. Just look at any ranking of Legislators and you’ll find moderate to left leaning Republicans and moderate to right leaning Democrats. Party affiliation doesn’t bind elected representatives to a certain ideology.
Further, given the recent changes with SB54, the likelihood of only fringe candidates running for school board will be significantly reduced.
Last, education issues generally transcend party lines. Most agree that a quality education is vital to a productive society. Most would agree that funding for education in Utah needs to improve. Most agree that teachers should be treated with respect and given the proper tools to be effective in the classroom. And most agree that Utah should control our education system, not Washington DC. No party has a monopoly on those issues, and having partisan elections won’t change that. In many ways, it may actually enhance it and make the selection process more transparent to voters.