Sarasota-based state Sen. Joe Gruters, who also serves as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, has signed on as a sponsor of a proposal that would turn local school board elections into partisan contests.

What You Need To Know

  • Currently, school board races are nonpartisan elections

  • If approved, the proposal would go before the voters as a constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot

  • School board meetings have become heated over the past year due to issues such as mask mandates

The measure would place a constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot that would allow voters to decide if they wanted to require that members of a school board be elected in a partisan election.

“The biggest sham in politics are nonpartisan races on the ballot, especially for school board as we’ve seen in the last year or two years now,” says Christian Ziegler, the Vice-Chair of the Republican Party of Florida and a close ally of Gruters.

Ziegler says that as someone who is deeply involved in GOP politics, the top question he hears from voters every election cycle is what are the political affiliations of school board candidates.

“So that’s a good indicator that voters want some more information, and by not having the party registration on there, frankly I think it’s very misleading,” he contends.

Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment to make school board elections non-partisan decades ago. That means that any measure that would repeal that amendment needs to be approved by the citizens as a constitutional amendment next November if it makes its way successfully through the legislature next year.

“There’s a reason why Floridians wanted those elections to be nonpartisan,” says Pinellas-based Democratic House member Ben Diamond. “Candidly, a lot of the problems that we’ve had recently at that level have been because we’ve seen an effort to inject partisan politics into discussions that should be focused on what’s best for our students, and this would just seek to codify that in Florida law."

With issues like mask mandates and critical race theory, school boards in Florida (and around the country) have been thrust into political battles over the past couple of years, whether members signed up for those fights or not.

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest labor union, opposes the proposal.

“Education is a non-partisan issue and making it partisan would only harm the education of our children,” says FEA President Andrew Spar.

The RPOF’s Ziegler contends that the teacher unions have been successful in backing their approved candidates over the years in school board elections because the political parties in Florida have traditionally taken a step back and not usually involved themselves in these races.

“I think now that citizens are realizing that, unfortunately, there are a lot of politics in our school boards and our school board races,” he says.

The proposal is being sponsored in the House by Republicans Spencer Roach from North Fort Myers and Tyler Sirois from Brevard County.