2015 Bills

SB104: Partisan State and Local School Boards

This bill passed the Senate 19-8 and failed the House 31-43.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

See the update below.

In years past, legislators have attempted, unsuccessfully, to modify the nomination process and structure of the State Board of Education. There has been general consensus around the need to get rid of the Governor’s power to arbitrarily terminate the candidacies of those seeking election to a Board position, but lawmakers have been unable to agree on whether, in addition to that change, the Board should also be elected through the partisan process, or be kept non-partisan.

Senate Bill 104, proposed by Senator Al Jackson, seeks to re-ignite that debate—and then some. As written, the bill would:

  • abolish the “nominating and recruiting committee” whose members are selected by the Governor and empowered to eliminate candidates seeking office;
  • make state school board candidates partisan, subjecting them to the scrutiny of the caucus/convention process; and
  • change local school boards to likewise be comprised of candidates nominated through the partisan system.

Partisan processes are by no means a panacea, and definitely have their downsides. But being “non-partisan” is a facade behind which certain candidates hide who otherwise would be weeded out of the nomination process. To the extent that government is involved in education, those overseeing billions of taxpayer dollars should be subjected to heightened scrutiny, which the current process does not accommodate.

Additionally, this year’s attempt at reforming the law follows a judicial order in federal court arguing that the Governor’s committee has “unfettered discretion” violating the right of free speech. The order allowed several candidates eliminated by the committee to be placed back on the ballot. This court opinion is likely to add to the momentum for this bill to advance, in some form, during this legislative session.

Update: Since its introduction, the bill has been changed. The provisions regarding making local school boards partisan have been struck.