Florida proposal would add political parties to school board races

If approved, voters would decide on a constitutional amendment in 2024

Orange school board reviewing policies amid new Florida education laws

ORLANDO, Fla. – When voters choose school board candidates in elections, there are no political parties listed after their names on the ballot.

Next year, lawmakers in Florida will consider putting a constitutional amendment on the 2024 ballot that would change that.

State Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, has once again filed a bill (HJR 31) to make school board races partisan. He filed a similar bill last year, with State Rep. Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, but it never made it out of committee.

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Florida voters in 1998 amended the state constitution to require school board races to be nonpartisan. That means political party is not a consideration for a candidate for school board, and even if the candidate is part of a political party, that information is not disclosed on the ballot.

News 6 has reached out to Roach’s office asking for a comment for this story and is waiting to hear back.

Most states in the country do not have partisan elections for county school board races. Only four states — Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Louisiana — require partisan races, while North Carolina and Georgia allow local governments to decide.

Dr. Larry Walker, UCF assistant professor on education leadership, questions whether this bill is a solution in search of a problem. He is worried that making school board races partisan could inject politics where it’s not needed.

“That body plays a critical role in the community,” Walker said. “Ultimately with the school board, particularly, you really have to have a consensus on some issues.”

School board races became politically divisive in the 2022 election across the country. Conservative groups like Moms for Liberty fronted and funded school board candidates. Gov. Ron DeSantis broke precedent and endorsed nearly three dozen conservative candidates across the state — a majority of them won their elections.

News 6 political analyst and UCF professor Dr. Jim Clark said making school board races partisan would make it clear for voters who vote based on political ideology.

“Most of the counties in Florida are conservative,” Clark said. “This would make it clear in conservative counties who is a Democrat and who is a Republican. This would make it clear and perhaps bring in party backing from Tallahassee from the political parties.”

Having that clarity, however, is a double-edged sword. In more liberal counties, it could hurt a conservative candidate as well. Clark notes that Alicia Farrant, a Moms for Liberty candidate who won her school board race in Orange County, was not publicly endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Clark wonders if that would have helped her or hurt her in the liberal county that DeSantis lost by seven points.

“It just makes the process more political and brings in more money, it’s going to make it more expensive to run for school board, and might discourage candidates from running,” Clark said.

Walker said one really needs to ask if this is something voters really want and whether it is good for students and schools.

“We live in a hyperpartisan country, and many people argue that Florida is the center of that,” Walker said. “And we also know that Florida school board races have become hyperpartisan. So amending the constitution may feed the beast, so to speak, and increase the hyperpartisanship. And that would not be good.”

Should the amendment proposal pass the Florida Legislature, it would be put on the ballot in 2024. Should 60% of Florida voters approve the amendment, it would go into effect with the 2026 election.

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About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.