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The Florida Roundup
The Florida Roundup is a live, weekly call-in show with a distinct focus on the issues affecting Floridians. Each Friday at noon, listeners can engage in the conversation with journalists, newsmakers and other Floridians about change, policy and the future of our lives in the sunshine state.Join our host, WLRN’s Tom Hudson, broadcasting from Miami.

Should school board races be partisan? Florida voters weigh in

The State Board of Education approved changes to a rule to help carry out a controversial new law that expanded a prohibition on instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
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An amendment, if passed by voters in this year’s general election, it would require partisan elections for school board members on or after November 2026. It would also apply to the primaries for the 2026 general election.

A proposed constitutional amendment requiring partisan elections for school board members on or after November 2026 is on this year's ballot. The measure would also apply to the primaries for the 2026 general election.

Public school boards have been nonpartisan in Florida for more than 20 years. However, a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2024 ballot could change that.

The amendment was approved by the state Senate in April 2023. If passed by voters in this year’s general election, it would require partisan elections for school board members on or after November 2026. It would also apply to the primaries for the 2026 general election.

RELATED: Partisan school board elections will go on the Florida ballot in 2024

State Rep. Spencer Roach and Florida Atlantic University professor Meredith Mountford spoke about the amendment Friday with Tom Hudson on The Florida Roundup.

Roach, a Republican from North Fort Myers, sponsored the school board measure. He said its goal is to provide transparency to voters and make candidates’ positions clear.

“I simply think as policymakers, we have an obligation to provide voters with as much information as possible about candidates to include party affiliation, and let the voters make their decisions based on that information," Roach said. "So I don't think you should ever be allowed to use the power of the law to hide your ideology or to hide your affiliations, whether it's with a political party or otherwise.”

"I think it's really a legal fiction that these races are nonpartisan, the candidates are nonpartisan actors. And I think there are real differences in the party platform."
Rep. Spencer Roach

Mountford, a former superintendent, is against the measure. She argued the issue of transparency doesn’t make sense since voters can look up whether a school board candidate is registered with a political party.

She also said there’s been more school board dysfunction since Gov. Ron DeSantis and others began endorsing board members.

“It’s dangerous. Is that really what we want? And would that be representative of the school and the community? It's doubtful that the whole entire community has one political affiliation,” Mountford said.

Roach said politics are already present in school boards, calling them “sort of ground zero in this battleground of the culture wars.”

“I think it's really a legal fiction that these races are nonpartisan, the candidates are nonpartisan actors. And I think there are real differences in the party platform," Roach said. "So I think that every race, including judicial races, should be partisan.”

He also argued his measure would benefit those who want politics out of school board elections.

“If you want to vote for an NPA, which is a nonpartisan affiliated candidate in Florida, you should support my bill, because right now, we don't know who those candidates are," Roach said. "So if you truly think education should be nonpartisan, you should be voting for NPA candidates, and my law will allow you to know who they are on the ballot.”

Mountford explained how, based on her research, most school board members don’t run for political gain.

“They have what I call personal agendas, where they have a gripe or a very specific issue they're trying to fix, or they are there for what I call altruistic reasons that which we hope every board member is on, which is to benefit the children and help write policy so we get the greatest results possible from our kids,” she said.

Mountford also argued the current place politics holds in public education doesn’t align with what the framers of the Constitution wanted for students.

RELATED: Partisan school boards aren't what the Founding Fathers wanted, an FAU professor says

“So if you think about the purpose, yes, of course, getting them skilled labor and that kind of thing, of course, but that was not the original intent. The original intent was to create future citizens who could participate in a self-governing democracy, and then perpetuate democracy,” Mountford said, adding that students may return to their local communities after getting an education.

“I'm heavily involved with local control efforts and reclaiming that. That is slipping away, both at the state level and the federal level,” Mountford said.

The proposed constitutional amendment would need support from 60% of voters to pass. Roach said if the measure fails, he won’t try to put it on the ballot again.

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