Disarming the SBOE Culture Warriors

Earlier today the TFN Education Fund released an analysis of Senate Bill 6, a piece of legislation that was signed into law earlier this summer. SB 6 includes a provision that has received little attention from the general public, but that promises to have a considerable impact on what Texas children learn in public schools. SB also disarms the culture warriors on the State Board of Education by stripping them of some of their power to inject personal agendas and partisan politics into textbooks.

Below is the press release issued this morning. You can read the bill analysis here (PDF).

TFNEF Analysis: New Law Could Bring Sea Change to Textbook Adoptions in Texas

New Analysis Explains How SB 6 Could Disarm Culture Warriors on State Board of Education

Sept. 9, 2011

The start of this new school year came with a new law that finally gives school districts the ability to reject politicized instructional materials adopted by the State Board of Education, the president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund said today.

Senate Bill 6, passed by the Texas Legislature this summer, for the first time allows school districts to use state dollars to purchase textbooks and other instructional materials for core courses like history and science regardless of whether the State Board of Education has approved those materials.

“This law means local school districts will no longer be held hostage to the personal agendas of state board politicians when choosing instructional materials for their students,” TFN Education Fund President Kathy Miller said. “Schools will finally be able to say ‘no’ to politicized instructional materials when the state board forces publishers to censor or revise information simply because of personal or ideological objections.”

Gov. Rick Perry signed SB 6 into law on July 19. As the TFN Education Fund analysis of the legislation shows, the state board will continue to have the authority to review and formally approve textbooks and other instructional materials. In the past, school districts could use state dollars to purchase only instructional materials approved by the board. Now, however, school districts may purchase any instructional materials that help them teach to the state’s curriculum standards, even if the board has not approved those materials.

The analysis also notes various options that school districts might consider as they explore their new flexibility in purchasing instructional materials. Those options include working with other school districts and Education Service Centers to review materials proposed by publishers.

Adoptions of textbooks have long been heated battles in Texas. In 2001, for example, the State Board of Education rejected a proposed environmental science textbook because members objected to, among other things, passages on issues such as climate change and pollution. In 2007 state board members refused to give a reason when rejecting a third-grade mathematics textbook that some school districts were already using successfully in their classrooms. State board members have also sought to censor information on sex education in health textbooks, evolution in biology textbooks and slavery and civil rights in history textbooks.

The TFN Education Fund analysis is available at www.tfn.org/sb6Analysis.


The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund is a nonpartisan research and citizen education organization focusing on public education, religious freedom and civil liberties.

8 thoughts on “Disarming the SBOE Culture Warriors

  1. OK, but does the new law allow districts to adopt textbooks from, say, some of the fundamentalist publishers that produce stiff that TFN would regard as totally improper?

  2. My feelings echo those of Mr. Doerr. Could this have a reverse effect from that espoused by TFN? There are plenty of local school boards comprised of right wing fundamentalists that would eagerly promote a religious agenda. I would like for someone from TFN to weigh in on this possibility.

  3. Yes, it means that if your school district is Creationist, that is what will be taught in that district. Perry would not have agreed to it were it otherwise. It also means that districts in a more urban setting will likely be less likely to buy Creationist stuff.

    The suburbs is a toss up. But it should be noted that suburban districts that teach Creationism curtail collegiate competitiveness for their graduates.

  4. Sounds like the battle may decentralize. If the districts adopt fundie textbooks, they’ll have to be taken to court one-by-one.

  5. Two things here, Edd and friends. First, yes, school districts might purchase inappropriate material — like, say, David Barton’s propaganda — but they could already do so up to now (using local discretionary funds). And for all we know, many districts have been putting bad materials in the classroom for years. That’s, unfortunately, an unavoidable reality in a conservative state like Texas with 1,000+ districts making independent decisions about textbooks. And up to this point, there was no way to monitor these local discretionary purchases short of contacting every single district, one at a time.

    But here’s the good news — the new law contains an important transparency provision that will allow the public to see ALL instructional materials purchased by local districts. So if a school district does decide to buy something published by Barton or the Discovery Institute, we’ll know about it moving forward. And we can organize at the local level to convince them otherwise (or enlist the help of our attorney friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State or the ACLU to help convince them). While we share your concerns, in our estimation this improves matters in the state by (1) diluting the influence of the SBOE over time; and (2) providing a reasonable way to monitor district purchasing decisions.

  6. Thanks for the explanation Ryan. I too was concerned about maverick school districts aligning on the side of the religious fundamentalists. It seems to me that our choice is to go with the lesser of two evils! Not ideal, but better than being totally subject to the agenda of too many delusional SBOE members.