New Texas Education Board: What’s Ahead?

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.

Final election results for state board races are available here.

12 thoughts on “New Texas Education Board: What’s Ahead?

  1. It ain’t no problem. Iffin’ our kids start a-dyin’ of sexshual diseasus, it’s because they dun went agin’ God an’ didn’t abstain frum sex.

  2. What is known of Nunez and his positions on teaching evolution, comprehensive sex education, etc.

  3. TFN would be more successful with the Texas SBOE if it could find a way to teach the multitude of rank and file Texas Southern Baptists about the origins and distinctives of the historical baptist faith in the United States, going all the way back into the 1600s. The average people in the pews of Southern Baptist Convention churches are denied a true knowledge of their own church history and faith because the current leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention hide it from them. They know that the pious and true baptists of old would be horrified at where their leaders have taken them since 1979. I believe, sincerely within my heart as Jesus speaks to it, that the Southern Baptist Convention has become a minister of evil in this world. I say that as a former member of an ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention Church. In my opinion, the first three minutes of this video describes how the leaders of the SBC have treated their people since 1979.

  4. Well, one thing’s for sure: San Antonions don’t give a s**t about their kid’s education; they re-elected Ken Mercer. Here in San Antonio, it’s “stay the course,”…..yep, right to the Dark Ages. Once again I am reminded how lucky I am not to have a kid in San Antonio schools.

  5. Mercer benefitted from straight-ticket voting. I imagine there are plenty of unaware Republicans who would be appalled if they knew who they really voted for.

  6. Sad to see San Antonio send poor Ken Mercer back to the SBOE, but there’s a glimmer of hope, perhaps. I spoke to Dr. Michael Soto when he was canvassing for his first run to the board and asked about his views on the evolution/creationism issue. He replied that he had “great faith in evolution”.

  7. Ben’s right- Mercer benefited from straight-ticket voting by particularly unaware, uneducated Republicans. Wish we could tear away that comfortable layer of cultural insulation that keeps them so unaware….

  8. I’m not so sure about the straight ticket voting guys. I would not deny that it is a factor to some extent. However, we have a congressman in my area who has been in office for 30+ years. Everyone loves him, not so much because of any ideological stands he might take, but rather because he is a classic Tammany Hall guy from the 1800s. You know the type. He brings a box of cigars to the hospital to celebrate your new baby, and you wonder how he even knew your wife was pregnant and that your family was even alive. From some things I have read, I sort of got the impression that Mercer does the same sorts of things in his district, which means he will never leave office until the day he dies.

  9. Maybe Mr. Mercer was the beneficiary of straight-ticket voting by new voters. But he’s been around long enough for enough local voters to know better. No, I maintain the majority of San Antonio Republicans knew very well what they were doing when they voted for Mercer. They believe he is the best for their kids’ edjukashun. Which hearkens back to Flora’s comment above about “uneducated Republicans.” That’s what the majority of them are: uneducated. And Ben, this is going to shock you but most Republicans would NOT be appalled by Ken Mercer’s philosophy of education. They would be [and are] very proud of him.

  10. Charles and Cytocop, I have to respectfully disagree with you on a couple of points.

    I wouldn’t call Mercer’s district local, because it spans a very big area. I’m about 80 miles away from San Antonio, but I’m in Mercer’s district.

    I would bet that very few people know who represents them on the board. Heck, most people can’t even name their senators or congresspeople.

    Another possibility is that some voters only voted in the races in which they were informed, not casting a vote in other races, meaning that the people who voted in the board race did intentionally vote for Mercer.

    There still are some Republicans out there who aren’t crazy. (Cyto, I know you disagree strongly about this, but we’ll just have to disagree.) I know quite a few of them. I don’t understand how they support a state platform that reads like a chunk of bad satire, but they are willing to overlook the homophobia, scientific ignorance, etc, that is written into the platform and still vote Republican. As we’ve seen, when the economy tanks, it becomes the most important issue for many people, and they will vote solely based on which party they trust to get the economy back on track. I know Republicans who aren’t religious or socially conservative, but their economic views are enough to keep them loyal to the party.

  11. Ben. Point well taken.

    I am so confused that I don’t know what to believe anymore. Nothing makes any sense to me. As noted on CNN last night, the major concern of the American people is joblessness and the economy. It tops everything else by light years. The Republicans said “we heard you on that.” Nonetheless, ever since election night, the main far right conservative rhetoric has been to totally abandon the issues of joblessness and the economy and focus their entire attention undoing on health care reform, which most pundits agree they do not have a prayer of doing over the next 2 years and even after that most likely.

    Of course, we should have perhaps expected this. One of the basic ideological platforms in the far right extremist Republican Party has always been, “Whether for good or evil, we have no right to interfere with the natural workings of a free market economy. The economy and joblessness will just have to fix themselves.” If you feel you have no right to do what the American people have insisted overwhelmingly that you do, I guess you are obligated to try to focus the conversation on some other issue in hopes that the American people will not see you are really just sleeping on the job.

  12. Coincidentally, the Austin American-Statesman has an article in today’s paper regarding straight-ticket Republican voting in Hays County (sorta between Austin and San Antonio)….

    An excerpt:

    “What happened to the Democrats in Hays County this year? Were they just victims of the surge against the policies of President Barack Obama? Did the national shift toward Republicans reach so far down the ballot that no Democrats in this swing county stood a chance?

    The strength of straight-ticket Republican voting was the deciding factor in many races.

    Hays County’s unofficial election results show that with all precincts reporting, 62 percent of early voters went straight-ticket Republican. That gave the GOP candidates a strong early lead that many Democratic candidates — including Rose and Commissioner Jeff Barton , who ran for county judge — couldn’t overcome on election day.”