Yesterday’s elections will bring a lot of new faces to the Texas State Board of Education in January. The big question is whether those new faces will bring to the board a new focus on educating children instead of promoting personal and political agendas.
As of now, the state board will still have at least five members aligned in a far-right faction that has dragged nearly every curriculum and textbook issue over the past four years into divisive and unnecessary “culture war” battles. The elections yesterday may add at least one member to that faction on the 15-member board, but that remains to be seen. That would appear to leave nine or ten other board members — Republicans and Democrats — who can work together to put education ahead of politics.
That’s important because the board faces a number of critical issues in the next two years. This spring the board plans to adopt instructional materials that cover new science curriculum standards for several high school courses, including biology. How those materials approach the teaching of evolution is likely to be the key issue in that adoption. The board will then consider whether to adopt in 2012 new textbooks that meet controversial and heavily politicized social studies curriculum standards adopted this past spring. In addition, the board will begin the process of revising health curriculum standards in 2012. Whether those standards require students to learn medically accurate information about responsible pregnancy and STD prevention will almost certainly be a flash point in that process, especially because Texas has one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation.
We are cautiously optimistic. Republican primary voters rejected the extremism of four religious-right candidates — including one incumbent, Don McLeroy of College Station — in the spring. We hope more moderate candidates who won last spring and yesterday will bring the leadership and wisdom necessary to refocus the board on its core responsibility to ensure that students get an education based on facts and sound scholarship and that prepares them to succeed in college and a 21st century economy.
Still, there were some troubling signs in yesterday’s election. Longtime Democratic incumbent Rene Nuñez of El Paso was edged out in his race for re-election by El Paso Republican Carlos “Charlie” Garza. Garza had run with the support of religious-right pressure groups. In addition, Republican incumbent Ken Mercer of San Antonio, a member of the state board’s far-right faction, won re-election.
Two other new Republican members elected yesterday, Marsha Farney of Georgetown and Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant, defeated far-right candidates for their GOP nominations. Republican George Clayton of Richardson, defeated longtime GOP incumbent Geraldine “Tincy” Miller — who had been a swing vote on the board — in the spring. How these three Republicans will vote when they are seated on the board in January is an open question.
In any case, we are left with an 11-4 Republican-Democratic split on the board. As in the last four years, not all of those Republican will align with the far-right faction. And the Texas Freedom Network will continue to work with all board members who want to put education over politics. You can help by supporting our Just Educate campaign to reform the state board and the way Texas decides what our children learn in their public schools. In addition, learn more here about how you can work at the local level to support responsible sex education in your community.