Today is the first day of the filing period for candidates for Indiana school board elections – a significant date because this is the first year all will take place in November, and they come at a critical time for public education.
November school board elections are one of the success stories of Indianas local government reform push. The Kernan-Shepard Commission recommended moving all school board contests to the general election.
Primary election turnouts are so low that the public cannot have sufficient confidence that the officials elected are representative of the electorate, the bipartisan commission concluded.
Given the reluctance to switch, some school officials undoubtedly liked the fact that participation in the primary elections was low. Even though voters had an option to request a school board-only ballot, some inevitably stayed away from the primaries because they didnt want to request a Republican or Democratic ballot. Of the four Allen County public school districts, only Fort Wayne Community Schools held November elections.
Local government reformers were right to push for general election contests. The fall election draws more voter interest and engagement. Candidate participation in recent years would indicate that voters benefit from more competitive races when elections take place in the fall.
School board elections deserve public attention. Township government officials like to insist they represent government closest to the people, but whats closer than a neighborhood school? The quality of the local schools is a key factor in home-buying decisions – ask any real estate agent.
School board elections matter. Even with funding changes made by the state, local school board members wield tremendous influence in a community, from employment decisions to construction to education policy. FWCS voters approved a $119 million referendum in May; those dollars will be spent with school board approval in the next year.
As Indiana expands its school choice program, accountability for education outcomes grows weaker. Unelected charter school board members are not accountable to voters. At most voucher schools, board members allegiance is to a church, not to the taxpayers whose dollars are supplementing their budgets. School board members in public districts arent always responsive to parents and taxpayers, but they always can be tossed out in the next election.
Public education is at a crossroads now, with policy changes that have had profound effects on Indiana schools. Even some lawmakers who supported voucher entitlements, collective bargaining limits and charter-school expansion seem hesitant to make any more changes until they see results.
But the push is on to spread public tax dollars even further. The American Federation for Children, a political group funded primarily by out-of-state hedge-fund managers and Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton, held an Indianapolis training session in March to recruit candidates.
At the campaign training school, youll not only learn from experts about the basics of how to run a successful campaign for public office, youll also learn about how to effectively communicate about school choice policy and educational choice to voters and the news media, read the invitation aimed at recruiting potential candidates for school board, city council and mayoral contests.
The stakes for public education have never been higher, and strong candidates with a commitment to students are desperately needed. Aug. 24 is the deadline to file candidacy for the Nov. 6 school board elections.