Local Parents and Lawmakers React to Partisan School Board Elections
CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – Children learning from home due to COVID has kicked off what officials say is unprecedented parental involvement in their children’s education.
“We have witnessed over the last 18 months that parents have grown very interested, and they should be very interested, at the content, the curriculum, at how the moneys are spent,” says Tennessee State Representative Robin Smith (R).
The Tennessee House and Senate passed Friday afternoon a bill allowing counties to decide whether school board elections can be partisan. The vote fell mostly along party lines with Republican lawmakers supporting the effort.
“We’re not rewriting the rules here. We are just adding another layer of transparency.”
“The purpose of this bill is to give the voters and the parents all the information they need about the individuals that are running for these positions.”
Some parents and lawmakers find that education is the wrong place for partisan politics. “Our communities are already so divided and I feel like our children deserve better than to be caught up in partisan politics,” says Hamilton County public school parent Jenn Piroth.
“What you’re really saying is Republican education is better than democratic education. Or vice versa. And I totally disagree with that.”
But with school board meetings reaching fever pitch over issues like mask mandates and critical race theory, some lawmakers say the politics are already there.
“It matters when they’re making decisions we know now for sure on curriculum, on student codes of conduct. We know that’s political. The politics are already there. This is just shedding light on what politics are there.”
Lawmakers say the bill allows each party within each county to decide if they want to run a partisan race. Partisan races will not be required.
“This bill simply adds school board members to those elected positions already allowed to have partisan races at the local level, if the local party so decides.”
Similar bills are being presented in states throughout the country. Governor Lee is expected to sign the bill and then it will go to Republican and Democratic parties within counties who will meet with local election commissions.