What part of politics in public education? | Local News
Terry McDaniel rarely posts on social media.
But questions about a Republican lawmaker’s 2022 election investigation have prompted McDaniel to worry about the potential for further politicization of public schools and school boards. He is a professor of instructional leadership at Indiana State University.
One of the questions in State Rep. Bob Heaton’s voter survey asks, “Would you support legislation that would prevent educators from advancing their political beliefs in the classroom and ensure ideological neutrality in Hoosier schools? ” Heaton, of Terre Haute, is a Republican representing House District 46.
Another question in Heaton’s survey asks whether voters would support “greater electoral transparency by requiring candidates for these [school board] positions to declare party affiliation? School board elections in Indiana are nonpartisan or apolitical. An investigation by State Representative Alan Morrison, R-Brazil, asks the same question, and an investigation by State Senator Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, asks a similar one.
Meanwhile, Todd Huston, Republican Speaker of the Indiana House, recently said Republicans would introduce a bill “to ensure parents have more insight and input into the educational materials and surveys used in their schools.” .
Additionally, the Indiana General Assembly is expected to “seriously consider legislation to make local school board elections partisan in its 2022 session,” according to a late October edition of School Matters by Steve Hinnefeld.
The potential infusion of partisan politics into public education prompted McDaniel to speak out.
“Politics has nothing to do with education. The legislature forced his way in and forced his way in,” he said. Republican supermajorities keep changing cut-off scores for statewide tests “so they can make schools look bad.”
He points out, in a statement on social media, that “courts and laws have repeatedly ruled that educators cannot advance their own political beliefs” in the classroom. Additionally, “Courts have repeatedly ruled that schools have the right to set the curriculum, not teachers.”
According to him, “So the legislators now want to make sure that their party controls the school boards. Then political party platforms can pressure candidates and tell them they won’t support the board member unless they support what the party wants in the schools,” said McDaniel.
What drives all of this?
“I think a lot of that comes from parents that we’ve heard from over the last year and a half who have not been happy with the levels of transparency at the school board level and at the program level,” Ford said. .
When people ask school boards questions, their time is limited or they may feel closed off, Ford said. In one community, a council approved a mask mandate without public comment. “It got a lot of attention from parents,” he said.
When COVID-19 hit and kids took online learning at home, “parents got an inside look at what their kids are going through, and I think a lot of people had questions and they don’t feel like they’re getting a response from school boards,” Ford said.
Ford said he’s also received a lot of feedback from parents who say they’d like school board elections to be partisan. Currently, candidates are running in July for the November general election, and some people are saying “that’s not enough time to understand someone’s ideology,” Ford said. They think “if we want to have such a short window, they should be partisan”.
Additionally, some believe school board races are “drowning out” other races, Ford said.
“I think the politics are already in the schools,” he said. School board members participate in parades with given political parties and attend party events.
“I think they end up being good public servants and in those positions without partisanship. I think it can be the same whether they have to declare or not,” he said.
So, will there be a law calling for partisan races in school boards?
“I haven’t seen any legislation yet that would do that, but there’s certainly talk about it,” Ford said.
Whether he supports it or not depends on how it’s written, he said.
Some states already have partisan school board elections; in some it is statewide, while in others the decision to hold partisan school board elections is made at the local level.
State Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Brazil, proposes legislation that would make school board elections partisan; other legislators are as well. Morrison has yet to file.
“I think it’s worth discussing,” he said. If such a bill gets a hearing, “I would be very interested in hearing testimony from both sides.”
He suggests that politics is pervasive in society and “especially K-12. The Democratic Party has been supported by the largest partisan organization in this state for years, for decades, being the ISTA,” he said, referring to the Indiana State Teachers Association.
As for keeping politics out of public education, “I think that ship has sailed a long time ago,” Morrison said.
When people show up at the school board, “I think it’s worth asking the question – is it worth it for people to know the political persuasion of the people they put there,” said Morrison. “I think a lot of people who vote would like to know where these people representing them are, where their baseline is, where they’re from.”
He supports partisan school board elections.
All of Morrison’s other Republicans disagree.
State Representative Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, says he would oppose a change to make school board elections partisan or political. ” I do not support it. I would have to be really convinced that I was really wrong to change my mind,” he said.
He doesn’t believe school board members care as much about political ideology as the day-to-day issues of the school budget, payroll meetings, teacher issues or the impacts of the COVID pandemic.
As for those day-to-day issues, “I don’t know what difference it makes to be a Republican or a Democrat” in terms of responding to such difficult challenges as the pandemic, Borders said.
State Rep. Tonya Pfaff, a Democrat from Terre Haute, replied, “You know what I’ve never heard a single parent say? I want more politics in my child’s school. The last thing we should be doing is injecting partisan politics into our schools and our educational process. There are no schools that only serve Democratic or Republican students, and there shouldn’t be.
Several attempts to reach Heaton for comment were unsuccessful.
Indiana’s bipartisan Coalition for Public Education states in its list of 2022 legislative priorities that “public schools should have local control — not political control.”
The coalition supports non-partisan school board elections.
“Partisan politics has no place in our children’s schools and children should not be pawns in party politics. Partisan testing should not influence the hiring decisions of administrators or teachers. Candidates for school boards should be accountable to the community as a whole, not to political party leaders,” he says.
“I think we’re so polarized already,” said ICPE president Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer. “Now more than ever, we need to be able to come together to create a better future for our children.”
Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, expects the issue to come to a head in the upcoming session. “We are planning a few bills regarding the idea of moving to partisan elections in school boards.”
The ISBA believes that “a shift to partisan school boards will only intensify the disruptive climate that some school boards have faced this summer and through the fall semester,” he said.
Currently, if citizens are unhappy with a school board member’s actions or votes, they can run for office to oppose the school board member or support or vote for another candidate, Spradlin said.
If lawmakers pass partisan school board election legislation, the ISBA is working with a group of Republican senators to make the decision a matter of local control determined either by a school board or by voters in school communities in the 92 Indiana counties, Spradlin said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or [email protected] Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.