The Tennessee General Assembly gathered Wednesday afternoon to begin their third extraordinary session this year. This time their focus is on COVID-19 — although one piece of legislation is likely to have impacts that stretch further than the global pandemic.
The special session was called for pandemic issues, but House Speaker Cameron Sexton wants to fundamentally change how school boards are elected by making those races partisan. Sexton says politics are already part of many districts.
“So, there’s a lot of school board races they say are non-partisan but they’re really partisan. People are identifying themselves; people are supporting, the Republican and Democrat parties are supporting people,” Sexton said. “We basically already have partisan races this would do is just say the candidates have to declare.”
As it stands now, a person can run to be an elected member on a school board in Tennessee without disclosing their party. Nashville Democratic Rep. Vincent Dixie thinks partisanship should stay out of schools.
“We have enough partisanship going on in the United States right now. And we definitely do not need that when it comes to school boards,” he said. “The school board, there should be one singular focus is how do we make sure that we give our students the best educational experience that they can possibly have.”
The fact that lawmakers are going to debate school board elections is a surprise. The special session has been described as focusing on the pandemic, but Sexton says it’s not limited to only COVID-19 related legislation. He adds that making school board races partisan is urgent because elections are coming up early next year.
Correction: This story originally misstated that the official call for the special session did not mention school boards. A section of the call directs legislators “to address partisan elections of school board members.”