Q&A of the Day – The Push for Partisan School Board Races in Florida
Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.
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Today’s Entry: @brianmuddradio DeSantis said the legislature is going to make school board races partisan races. Isn’t that part of the constitution and if so don’t voters have to approve those changes?
Bottom Line: Governor DeSantis timed the rollout of his education agenda for this year’s state legislative session with this week’s National School Choice Week. There’s been a lot to digest and to cover throughout the week as he’s taken on The College Board, teachers’ unions, teacher pay among other issues. One of those other issues is this one. His desire to turn Florida’s school board races into partisan races. In making the pitch, he said it’s important to do so because voters often vote against their preferences for school board because there’s not transparency in the process (that’s my paraphrased version). Before discussing the potential merits of this proposed legislation, you’ve raised an important question about the process of being able to enact the change.
Yes, you’re right that the basis for school board elections is a matter of the state’s constitution, which was broadly established in 1968 and last amended in 1998. The specific provision which addresses this issue is under Article IX Section 4 – which states:
- (a) Each county shall constitute a school district; provided, two or more contiguous counties, upon vote of the electors of each county pursuant to law, may be combined into one school district. In each school district there shall be a school board composed of five or more members chosen by vote of the electors in a nonpartisan election for appropriately staggered terms of four years, as provided by law.
So yes, in order for partisan school board races to occur in Florida, the state’s Constitution must be amended. And that takes us to the second part of your question. The question about voters needing to approve amendments to Florida’s constitution. There are five ways in which amendments can be proposed.
- The Florida Legislature passing a proposed amendment with a three-fifths vote
- The Constitution Revision Commission
- The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission
- A Constitutional Convention
- A Voter initiative
In recent years we’ve become familiar with three of these. For example, on last years’ ballot, the proposals on it had been placed by the Florida Legislature. In 2018, we had a combination of voter initiatives and proposals from Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission. But those are all of the ways in which proposed amendments can be brought to voters for consideration. To your point, yes, voters must ultimately ratify any proposed amendments. Under Florida’s constitutional law, all proposed amendments must receive at least 60% of the vote to be enacted (amendments addressing taxation or fees must receive two-thirds support to be ratified). So, the answer is yes to both of your inferences and that takes us to the soonest this would be up for consideration if it were to pass in the legislature this year...
Proposed Amendments must be on general election ballots. This means even if the legislature were to pass a proposed amendment in this year's session, it wouldn’t be up for voter consideration until the 2024 general election with the earliest implementation of the change occurring in January of 2025. There is another emergency provision under Florida law in which the legislature could call for a special election to consider a proposed amendment, however that extraordinary step almost certainly wouldn’t apply to this type of consideration. It remains to be seen if there is three-fifths support in the state legislature to propose an amendment to turn Florida’s school board races into partisan races, and it remains to be seen if 60% of voters would be on board with the change if it gets to us. Notably, all three of last years’ proposed constitutional amendments, which were placed on our ballots by the legislature failed to reach 60% support. To be continued...