Taking the SBOE to School 

Two years ago, this reporter attended a Texas State Board of Education meeting as an intern for an Austin-based publication. She, the unpaid intern, was one of three journalists sitting in the press box, one of whom (not her) spent the majority of the two-day meeting napping in his chair. Now that many across the state and country are rightfully sitting up and taking notice of the same hard-headed, culture war-crusading, ultra-conservative 7 member bloc of the 15-member board that time and again pushed their personal beliefs on everything from basic biology lessons to Thomas Jefferson, concerned citizens must grapple with the difficult question of how they can curtail powers they view as misused at the expense of a generation of Texas schoolchildren.

Obviously, voting is one way to make a preference known. San Antonians have two possibilities to vote come Nov. 2. To the north, one-term conservative SBOE representative Ken Mercer is up against a Democratic opponent, Texas State professor Rebecca Bell-Metereau. To the south, the elusive Rick Agosto slips out of his seat, to be filled by one of two career educators: Michael Soto, a Trinity professor from the Valley with a Harvard education or Joanie Muenzler, a proud Tea Party candidate with Masters degrees in Theology and Political Science.

The problem with the Nov. 2 elections? They're in November. Meanwhile, on May 19-21, the SBOE votes on the social studies curriculum standards that has alarmed so many here and nationally. The actions taken at that meeting could affect textbook and testing subject matter for the next decade.

Locally, State Representative Mike Villarreal, District 123, is circulating a petition calling on the board to “place the education of Texas students above your own agenda.” Gubernatorial candidate Bill White has a similar web campaign urging his opponent Gov. Rick Perry to ask the SBOE to delay their May meeting until the original curriculum review team can evaluate the more than 100 amendments the SBOE made to their original suggestions. A new local group, the National Alliance for Education, comprised of members of the GI Forum and the NAACP, are trying to arrange meetings with legislators to voice their disapproval of what they see as a “whitewashing” of state and national history, removing Hispanic historical figures like Tejano Alamo defenders and Cesar Chavez and recommending “the unintended consequences” of the Civil Rights movement be discussed. “We're not asking history to change, we're asking for it to be taught accurately,” said Joe Flores at an April 5 meeting of NAFE. That sentiment was expressed almost verbatim by both Rep. Villareal and Christina Gomez, of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. The Caucus recently announced it would hold a hearing on the State Board of Education on April 28 at Capitol extension building 2.012, beginning at 9 a.m. Gomez said the hearing, which will also include African-American legislators like our own Ruth Jones McClendon, will hear from people who have not been able to speak in front of the State Board of Education.

From there, sufficiently concerned legislators could attempt to strip the Board of some of its powers. “I believe that there is a role that the legislature can play in response to this overreach,” said Rep. Villarreal by phone on Monday. He mentioned two buzzed-about bills, one introduced last session by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) to limit the board's constitutionally-provided oversight of the Permanent School Fund and one State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-20) is expected to introduce next session abolishing the State Board of Education entirely. Many legislators believe they have the power to suspend the May vote until a sunset review of the SBOE has been completed or after the Nov. 2 elections. While the Lege attempts to sort through the messy politics, Rep. Villareal said school districts have been authorized to purchase e-books that meet TEKS standards but don't necessarily conform to all the SBOE textbook requirements. Which is great, assuming every child in Texas has equal access to e-books.


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