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Utah Supreme Court Rules That Partisan Elections For State School Board Is Constitutional

Photo of the Utah State Board of Education seal on a wall inside the board building.
Rocio Hernandez
Partisan elections for Utah State School Board members are constitutional, the Utah Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in response to a challenge from opponents to a 2016 bill that made the board races partisan.

People interested in serving on the Utah State Board of Education may have to run under a political party starting in 2020 after the Utah Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that partisan elections for the school board are constitutional. 

Utah lawmakers passed a bill in 2016 that made school board races partisan. That would have started in 2018, but opponents challenged it in court. They argued that the Utah Constitution states that “no religious or partisan test or qualification shall be required as a condition of employment …” in Utah’s education system. 

State school board elections have remained nonpartisan since then. 

But Tuesday, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that the state school board’s 15 members are not employed by the state’s education systems and therefore are not covered by that rule. 

Republican state Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, and Rep. Bradley Last, R-Hurricane, the sponsors of the law, were not available for comment. 

The Better Utah Institute, formerly known as the ABU Education Fund, was one of the original plaintiffs in the suit against the state along with the Utah PTA and state school board member Carol Barlow Lear. 

“Better Utah still firmly believes partisanship has no place in our school system and we are disappointed to see this result,” said Chase Thomas, executive director of the institute. 

Thomas cited a 2015 poll by Utah Policythat found 56% of the 606 respondents said they would prefer that members of the state Board of Education be selected through nonpartisan elections. 

Judge Constandinos Himonas said in the court’s opinionthat it was not up to the Utah Supreme Court to determine whether partisan school board elections is good public policy. 

The Utah State Board of Education did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling. 

Future state school board candidates will have to have to go through the caucus and convention system or collect signatures of registered voters in their district. 

Local school board elections, however, remain nonpartisan. 

Rocio is coming to KUER after spending most of her life under the blistering Las Vegas sun and later Phoenix. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She did brief stints at The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Public Radio. She enjoys wandering through life with her husband and their toy poodle.
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