And just like that… the Texas State Board of Education takes a step back to resemble the board of culture warriors and far-right extremists we had in 2010.
Since our founding, TFN has led education advocacy work as the watchdog of the State Board of Education, and we know the signs of an uprising from the far-right. It’s true, the Board as it was last year was generally hostile to progressive values, but they were open to some ideas that allowed for positive change to our textbooks and teaching requirements. That iteration of the SBOE was also more picky about what applications for charter schools to accept – which leads us to its downfall.
The Beginning to the End of the SBOE as we know it
In June 2022, the SBOE voted (for the third time) to turn down the application from Heritage Classical Academy to become a state recognized charter school. The vote to reject Heritage Classical Academy was bipartisan, but it’s also important to note that several news outlets have connected Heritage Classical Academy with using a controversial and politically slanted curriculum developed by the far-right Christian Hillsdale College.
After the third rejection, Heritage Classical Academy did not give up. Instead, they put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. The Texas Tribune linked Heritage’s board chair, Stuart D. Saunders, with the Freedom Foundation of Texas PAC. Fast forward to November 2022, three candidates backed by the PAC won their election. And yes, the candidates are all far-right, extremist Republicans.
The New Regime
The futures of five million students enrolled in public schools are now in the hands of a decidedly right-wing new board, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats 10-5. The new members placed into power by Heritage will not just have a say on charter school applications – increasing the odds that Heritage will have application approval – but they’ll also have a say about legislative recommendations around vouchers, what our children will be taught about science in review of our TEKS, a rehashing of the postponed social studies curriculum, and future content that they’ll either accept or reject because of their own personal political views.
The last time the SBOE leaned this far to the right, we saw the conversations centered from one “culture war” battle to another, including divisive debates over what students should learn about evolution, climate change, civil rights and separation of church and state. There’s little hope that this time around, it’ll be any different.
The Texas Observer took a dive into the newly elected board members backed by the Freedom Foundation of Texas PAC, and they found “Seditious Texiters. Conspiracy theorists. A January 6 insurrectionist.”
Where you come in
History appears to be repeating itself with the new SBOE, but we know that history is on our side, and unlike folks who refuse to learn from their past, we know the value in learning from our mistakes. We will be at board meetings reminding this board of the self-inflicted embarrassments the previous Board endured when they didn’t put students above politics. We have launched our Teach the Truth campaign working with other organizations that believe students of all ages, races, and backgrounds deserve an accurate, honest, and quality education that allows them to see themselves represented, access truthful information, and learn from our past in order to build a better future for themselves and our country.
Join our movement to #TeachtheTruth, and get involved by attending regular school board meetings, testifying at the State Board of Education, and taking every chance to tell your representatives that you value public education and educators.