Partisan Utah school board elections ruled constitutional

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that partisan state school board elections are constitutional, overturning a 2017 district court decision.

The unanimous Wednesday ruling reinstates a 2016 law allowing people who want to run for the state Board of Education to file as partisan candidates beginning in 2020.

The state Board of Education is composed of 15 members who are elected to four-year terms, with elections occurring every two years on even-numbered years, officials said.

Prior to 2016, candidates were screened by an appointed committee and placed on the ballot by the governor, state officials said.

Political party mechanisms were needed to adequately vet school board candidates, proponents of partisan elections said.

The Utah Parent Teacher Association, Alliance for a Better Utah Education Fund and others worry the ruling could lead to an educational system driven by a single political ideology influencing curriculum and policy in state schools.

“Partisan politics has no place in our schools,” said Josh Kanter, board chairman of the Better Utah Institute. “We have always believed that our children’s education should be insulated from the extreme partisanship that grips our nation and is making inroads into our state.”

The ruling stated that members of the state school board are not included in the category of education employees and are therefore not subject to language that would otherwise violate a prohibition on “religion or partisan tests” for school employment.

Board members are elected by and accountable to constituents, who cannot hire, fire or supervise board members after election, making them representatives not employees of their constituents, the court said.

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