Indiana Republican lawmakers appropriately chose not to advance a bill to more deeply immerse Hoosier school districts in politics.

Yet the door remains open for the Indiana General Assembly to, once again, try to make local school board elections partisan.

For now, thankfully, the push by the Legislature’s ruling party to end Indiana’s long history of nonpartisan school board elections has stalled. House Bill 1428 died after not being called for a vote in the full Indiana House before Monday’s deadline for bills to win approval and advance to the state Senate.

“It’s hard to find that sweet spot. We didn’t quite get it this year,” said House Speaker Todd Huston.

Indeed, Republicans tried to sweeten the distasteful plan to force school board candidates to wear a “Republican,” “Democrat” or third-party label in elections, or to declare themselves independent, which is always a long-shot status in partisan elections. They concocted a system for voter referendums in each of Indiana’s almost 300 school districts to determine whether those localities would switch to bipartisan school board elections or remain nonpartisan.

Its toxicity could still be tasted, though. The watered-down bill received scant support and lots of opposition, just like a similar, unsuccessful attempt to further politicize school board elections in 2022.

The idea is unpopular because almost nobody in Indiana outside of partisan politics is asking for it. This bill, like many pursued in the supermajority-era Indiana Legislature, comes from national political action organizations. It is a bad idea shipped to the Hoosier state to satisfy a national political party’s electoral objectives, seizing on divisive campaign issues — the latest being COVID-19 policies and critical race theory — to spread the party’s influence into local schools.

Most school board candidates are motivated to seek those seats by issues specifically affecting their community. Partisan politics, especially at the state and national level, have already exacerbated divisions among people. That does not well serve Hoosiers or Americans in general. Local schools do not need to join that food fight.

Forty-one states maintain nonpartisan school board elections, including Indiana. The Legislature needs to stop trying to force an unwanted change to that format.

Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

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