Inventing ‘Facts’ Fails in Hearing on SBOE

by Dan Quinn

When fanatics don’t have facts to back up their arguments, they invent them. We saw that during the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee’s hearing Wednesday on SB 1348. That bill and companion HB 3263 call for the appointment of teams of highly qualified scholars from Texas colleges and universities to review proposed public school curriculum standards for accuracy and to ensure that they prepare students for college.

This common-sense legislation appealed to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee. “It’s hard for me to vote against a bill that makes sense,” Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock said at one point.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller testified in support of the bill, explaining how the State Board of Education has politicized curriculum standards and appointed unqualified “expert” advisers simply because of their ideological views. The board has even refused to ask scholars at the state’s world-class universities to review the heavily revised standards before final adoption. Even a conservative think tank like the Fordham Institute has expressed its disgust with the state board’s blatantly politicized and inaccurate curriculum standards.

The facts-inventing began when Jonathan Saenz, the lobbyist for Liberty Institute (Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family) testified in opposition to the bill. We’ll point out just three of the whoppers he told committee members. (You can watch the video — Saenz’s testimony begins at about the 1:20:00 mark here.)

First, Saenz argued that SB 1348’s requirements represent an unfunded mandate on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which would appoint the new review teams. But the Legislative Budget Board says it anticipates “no significant fiscal implication to the state.”

Saenz also argued that the bill is unnecessary because “the State Board of Education is already doing this.” Nope. State board members refused to allow any review of language arts (in 2008), science (in 2009) and social studies (in 2010) curriculum standards after they made hundreds of changes to drafts created by curriculum teams made up of teachers and scholars. In fact, many of the board’s changes came in the 48 hours before final adoption of the standards by the board — all without any formal input or advice from scholars.

But one of the biggest falsehoods Saenz trotted out was his claim that certain board members support the pitifully weak qualifications the state board has set for so-called “experts” advising them on the revision of curriculum standards. Truth is, the state board has refused to adopt a number of common-sense requirements, such as a terminal degree in a field relevant to the standards under consideration. A majority of board members even voted down a requirement that “experts” have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education.

But Saenz claimed that board members like Michael Soto, a Trinity University scholar from San Antonio, were OK with the much weaker requirements the board has adopted: “They agreed that that was sufficient.” Let’s be blunt: Saenz lied. In fact, Senate committee members likely knew this because they had already received an email from Prof. Soto in support of SB 1348. We’ll quote from Prof. Soto’s email:

“I agree wholeheartedly with the credentials required of the review teams created by [SB 1348]; indeed, during our recent SBOE meeting in January, I attempted–unsuccessfully–to amend SBOE Rules to require similar credentials of those who serve on existing expert review panels. (The changes ultimately adopted into SBOE Rules are significantly watered-down from my original proposal.)”

Conservatives like Sen. Duncan and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, tore into Saenz’s disingenuous arguments against SB 1348. “I think your objection is purely political, quite frankly,” Sen. Duncan explained. Now that was a sweet moment of truth.