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Proposal would make school board elections partisan

File photo
File photo (Capitol News Service)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – By a two-to-one margin in 1998, Florida voters chose to make school board elections nonpartisan, but two GOP lawmakers want to go back to school board candidates declaring their party affiliation.

When voters approved the switch to nonpartisan school board races in 1998, Democrats held a registration advantage of over 400,000 voters.

At the time, the change was seen as a way for the GOP to make inroads and develop a bench.

Today, Democrats’ registration advantage is just over 23,000.

“It will bring transparency to the system,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters, who is sponsoring the legislation seeking to return to partisan school board races.

Gruters argued mask mandates have already polarized voters.

“You’ll understand that if there is a Democrat or a Republican running for school board, they are likely to support issues that party generally agrees with,” said Gruters.

In a statement, the Florida School Boards Association told us: “…Education should be one issue where people all across the political spectrum could come together.”

With registrations now almost even, Democrats call this a horrible idea.

“It gives more of that rallying cry, if you will, to their base, rather than focusing on what is the best method to make sure our public schools are fully funded,” said state Rep. Fentrice Driskell.

But Sponsor Gruters counters that local parties already make party affiliation an issue.

“You’re basically living under a rock if you think these races are nonpartisan. If you look at the parties in almost every single area, they will help identify, to their voters, which candidate represents their interests,” said Gruters.

If lawmakers are able to pass the change, six out of every 10 voters next year would still have to approve, a tough hill to climb in a divided state.

Voters approved the nonpartisan races in 1998 with over 64% of the vote, but Gruters said the times were far less partisan.

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