It appears that Texas lawmakers are beginning to look at ways to rein in an out-of-control State Board of Education. Today state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, pre-filed a bill for the coming legislative session that would make state board elections nonpartisan.
Recent controversies make clear the need to take ideology and partisanship out of races for the state board, Rep. Howard said in a press release announcing her proposed legislation, House Bill 420:
The current system is obviously not working as well as our students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers deserve. SBOE districts are some of the geographically largest districts in the state, yet these races attract little public attention and candidates have a hard time raising money to communicate their message. Voters go to the polls armed with minimal information on the issues and end up casting their ballot based on party affiliation. It’s time to encourage candidates to run more independently so voters can make informed decisions.
Rep. Howard, who won election to the House in 2006 in part because of her strong support for public education, pointed to extreme partisan and ideological statements made recently by state board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond. As TFN Insider readers know, Dunbar has charged that President-elect Barack Obama “truly sympathizes” with enemies who want to destroy America. Dunbar also writes in a new book that the public education system she helps govern is “tyrannical,” “unconstitutional” and a “tool of perversion.”
Dunbar’s remarks have sparked a firestorm of protest, with newspapers, commentators and others calling for her resignation from the board. The state board decides what more than 4.6 million Texas children learn in their public schools.
Under Rep. Howard’s bill, candidates for the state board would no longer be able to hide behind party labels. All candidates would run as independents, and the contests would be featured as separate nonpartisan races on the general election ballot. Rep. Howard believes such elections would attract more attention from voters and help them learn more about the positions candidates take on important issues.
The idea that Texans — if provided with information on the issues — would elect someone who has publicly declared the state’s education system “unconstitutional” and “tyrannical” is absurd. We value our children’s education too highly.
HB 420 is part of a package of reform legislation Rep. Howard is proposing. She also wants to transfer authority over the Permanent School Fund from the state board to an independent body. State board members are not required to have any financial expertise even though they are charged with managing a fund that currently has about $17.5 billion.
The board’s role in overseeing the Permanent School Fund has generated controversy in the past. In 2002, for example, far-right board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, was indicted with two others (no longer on the board) for violating the state’s law on open meetings by privately meeting with financial advisors to discuss the fund.
Sources tell TFN Insider that other state lawmakers might offer legislation that would severely restrict the state board’s authority over setting curriculum standards and adopting textbooks. For many years publishers have been forced to censor textbook content because of political and ideological objections of board members.
The 81st Session of the Texas Legislature opens in January.