In 2022, lawmakers in Florida approved a 12-year term limit for school board members. A year later, Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 477, which revised the new law and imposed a two-term limit for school board members.
Current members are now limited to only two terms, which will set in motion frequent open-seat elections. The vote occurred during a legislative session in which lawmakers pursued a variety of other issues affecting school boards and the state’s public school districts.
Overstepping local authority — or constitutional rules — seemed to be in question due to the fact that the Legislature imposed this term limit, although most districts in Florida did not sign off on it.
The Senate voted 30-7 to approve HB 477, with five Democrats joining Republicans in support. The bill was passed by the House by a vote of 79-29 in March.
Some Democrats argued that dislodging entrenched administrations, particularly in education, takes time and experience. Others were afraid that there might not be enough candidates for school board positions in smaller counties.
“While I believe that term limits should be set by voters, that is allow voters to decide if they want to re-elect their representatives. I do not hold any strong opinions on term limits. I do wonder how legislators arrived at two terms,” said Marcus Nicolas, a member of the Leon County School Board.
Nicolas said he wonders how this might effect the education system. “Anytime you have turnover, there is a loss in consistency, loss in continuity and a loss in institutional knowledge. If you have a good system, that can have long-term damaging effects.”
According to the Florida School Boards Association, “Imposing term limits on school board members on a statewide basis overlooks the diversity of the state and usurps local control and authority. The decision to impose term limits on locally elected officials should be made at the local level with the approval of local voters, as has been the case for a small number of local elected officials.”
Along with term limits, residency plays a role with local elected officials. House Bill 411 changes the requirement that school board candidates live in the districts they are running for at the time they qualify to run. The measure, which would require candidates to live in their districts at the time they take office, must be approved by the House before it can be sent to Governor DeSantis.
Emily Horten, a parent with children in Leon County Schools, says that term limits will allow more changes and ideas to be enacted.
“This should allow school board members to expand on the knowledge of the community while meeting our needs within different schools,” Horten said.
The Legislature adopted a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for political school board elections. This would require candidates to declare a party affiliation as opposed to the non-partisan seats that exist today.
With lawmakers’ assent, the issue will appear on the ballot in 2024. The amendment, if supported by voters, would eliminate the requirement that school board candidates run without party affiliation. Partisan elections could begin as early as 2026, although those supporting it say that it has already been present in previous campaigns.