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Republicans seek to restrict school referendums to general elections

Representative Bob Behning speaks at a podium in the Indiana House. He is a White man with white hair, wearing a blue tie as he gesticulates.
Lauren Chapman
IPB News
Only Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), the author of HB 1376, spoke in favor of the bill in the House Elections and Apportionment Committee.

Groups representing Indiana school boards, superintendents and teachers all oppose legislation that would limit school ballot referendums to general elections.

No one spoke in favor of HB 1376 except its author. But Republicans on the House Elections and Apportionment Committee advanced the bill Wednesday.

Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) called his legislation “taxpayer friendly.” He said far more people vote in general elections than in primaries.

“I do believe that what we’re trying to do is get more voters engaged in the process,” Behning said.

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The measure would only allow school referendums in general elections in municipal election years if the school district is entirely within the municipality.

Terry Spradlin of the Indiana School Boards Association said potentially limiting districts to referendums every two years can cause budget issues, considering schools finalize those before Election Day.

“And so, we’re going to have to play the guessing game whether voters will support our referendum and how we shape our annual budget,” Spradlin said.

Since 2009, across all types of school referendums, the ballot questions happen more often in primaries than general elections. And the success rate in primaries is 76 percent, compared to 55 percent in fall elections.

The measure passed the committee largely along party lines, though Rep. Jim Pressel (R-Rolling Prairie) joined Democrats in voting against it.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.