OPINION: Partisan school board elections will silence voters

Heavily Democratic counties like Hillsborough could see Republican and Independent voters silenced in the next school board elections if State Rep. Spencer Roach’s amendment allowing candidates to affiliate with a party passes in 2022. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/Hillsborough County School Board

North Fort Myers Rep. Spencer Roach proposed an amendment Aug. 12 in a move to return partisanship to school board elections. 

House Joint Resolution 35 proposes an amendment to the state constitution to require members of a district school board to be elected in a partisan race. This would overturn the 1998 amendment that created the nonpartisan system used by every county for over two decades.

Roach’s proposal is a clear power grab, a return to a system that failed constituents in the past and an attempt to reverse legislation passed by voters in the last 30 years. Floridians should take action in the 2022 ballot and vote against this proposal.

Prior to nonpartisanship going into effect in 1998, many school board races were decided in closed primaries. This means in Democratic counties like Hillsborough, Republicans and Independents had virtually no say in the outcome of races, and vice versa in Republican counties like Lee, which Roach oversees.

By returning to partisan elections, a large portion of constituents will have no say in their representation.

This bid for a return to partisanship is the latest move in the crusade for control over public schools by Republican figureheads this past year.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ revisionist history curriculum was passed earlier this summer which claimed to stomp out the illusory critical race theory being taught in K-12 schools. It came in tandem with reallocation of public funds to private school vouchers. This all was followed by his statements against COVID-19-mitigating measures in public schools, skewing scientific research to back his statements.

Outrage politics have proven to be effective at bringing people to the polls, and with the 2022 election cycle, Republicans have been bringing heat to the public school debate.

Roach has complained the nonpartisanship races have produced school boards whose policies don’t align with the wishes of the electorate. Roach, chair of the Lee County Legislative Delegation, has publicly denounced recent decisions by the Lee County School Board, particularly its policy allowing students to use the bathroom consistent with their identity.

The current members of the Lee County School Board were chosen by voters of all parties. Implementing closed primaries is not an attempt by Roach at proportional representation but rather the opposite. It’s an attempt to tip the scales to his preference, completely ignoring voter choice.

If Roach’s amendment passes, it will appear on the ballot in 2022 and require 60% of voters statewide for approval. If approved, partisan races would go into effect for the 2024 election cycle.

Hillsborough County has a Democratic majority, but not by much. About 39% of voters in Hillsborough are registered as Democrats, with 32% registered as Republicans and roughly 29% having no party affiliation. If the school board race were to be decided by a closed election, as much as 61% of Hillsborough County citizens would have no say in who represents them.

Partisan school board races would lock large portions of voters out of the final choice, resulting in polarization and disproportional representation. By voting against this resolution, citizens can continue to show they matter regardless of party affiliation.