Op-ed: State school board elections should be nonpartisan

Source: Deseret News

Deep red lipstick and the ’57 Chevy. Some things never go out of style.

Mark Twain’s wisdom remains in style even after decades of review. He was prescient when he wrote in his autobiography, “To lodge all power in one party and keep it there is to insure bad government and the sure and gradual deterioration of the public morals.”

We live in a Republican-dominated state, but now, it seems, the Republican Party wants to take over education.

In 2016, almost along party lines, the Utah Legislature passed SB78, State Board of Education Candidate Selection. Beginning in 2018, elections for the State Board of Education will be partisan with all the vetting by Republican state and county delegates that the party is fighting so hard in federal court to retain. If the Republican Party prevails, candidates will be examined and judged by a small number of Republican delegates for their adherence to Republican Party principles and the platform.

Take for example the Utah GOP platform on immigration: “We oppose illegal immigration and all forms of amnesty or legal status, for illegal immigrants. We support suspending automatic U.S. citizenship to children born to illegal immigrant parents. …”

How would this play out in our public schools when potential State Board of Education candidates are judged by delegates for their adherence to this standard? How would Republican members of the State Board of Education approve policies and curriculum for our schools if state delegates insist they adhere to the party platform?

In the Democratic Party, candidates will also be scrutinized by delegates. There are principles in the Democratic platform that many would find objectionable. But let’s be honest, we know that the vast majority of the 15 State Board of Education members will be Republican if SB78 is fully implemented in 2018.

As citizens, we hope that constitutions don’t go out of style and will remain relevant when voting on laws. Unfortunately for SB78, but fortunately for the public, there is a clause in the Utah Constitution which, many believe, makes SB78 unconstitutional.

The plain language of Article X, Section 8 states, “No religious or partisan test or qualification shall be required as a condition of employment, admission, or attendance in the state’s education system.” This section reflects the will of Utah citizens. We don’t want our schools to be places of religious or partisan indoctrination. We want our students taught how to think, not what to think.

Are State Board of Education members employees or elected officials? Both. State Board of Education members are elected officials, but they receive a salary (modest though it is), and they receive health and retirement benefits. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck and gets paid like a duck, it must be an employed duck.

A group of courageous individuals and several public interest organizations are challenging the constitutionality of SB78. These plaintiffs have filed a request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the implementation of SB78.

The plaintiff organizations include Utahns for Public Schools, ABU Education Fund, and the Utah Congress of Parents and Teachers, one of the best support organizations for public schools in Utah.

Individual plaintiffs include a current member of the State Board of Education who is adverse to running for re-election on a partisan ticket, an individual who is employed by the federal government and is therefore ineligible to run for office on a partisan ticket because of the federal Hatch Act, and individuals who have an interest in being candidates but are opposed, for various reasons, to run as partisan political party candidates.

Join us in preventing this unconstitutional law from being implemented. Please go to the Alliance for a Better Utah website for further information, because adhering to the Utah Constitution should never go out of style.

Sheryl Allen is a former Utah legislator and serves on the boards of Utahns for Public Schools and Alliance for a Better Utah.

Read Deseret News OpEd here.

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