What is the Texas State Board of Education & How Can You Get Involved?

TTT-SBOE

The classroom is no place for political theatre–that’s why Cecile Richards founded TFN 27 years ago after attending her first State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting and observing how the far-right’s political agenda was influencing the sex-ed standards in Texas public schools.

More than two decades later, we’re back at the SBOE this week–as we have been many times since.

Soon, revisions for the state’s social studies standards will begin, and we’re keeping a close watch. Especially after the historical whitewashing and politicization that dominated the last major revision in 2010.

This year is already off to a worrisome start–with a conspiracy theorist appointed to the advisory board and new attacks on teachers, books, and accurate, honest education mounting each day.

So–with an eye on the future of education in Texas, what exactly is the Texas SBOE? Why does it matter so much? And how can you be part of our important work to #TeachTheTruth?

What is the Texas SBOE?

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is a board made up of 15 members elected from districts across the state of Texas. The Chair of the board is appointed by the governor.

Together, the members have several responsibilities, like overseeing the Texas Permanent School Fund and approving charter schools. But its most high-profile responsibility is deciding what is and isn’t taught in our public schools. This process starts with the board adopting curriculum standards for a particular subject area. More specifically, those standards are what are referred to as TEKS, which stands for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

The board is currently made up of six Democrats and nine Republicans. Board members’ terms are staggered, meaning about half of them are on the ballot every two years, and while the SBOE is meant to create curriculums that serve the needs of all Texas students, contentious issues often become politicized during meetings and curriculum revisions.

How is the Texas SBOE different from my local school board?

The State Board of Education differs from your local school board in that the local school board focuses on a sole school district’s governance. Local school boards implement the standards and policies created by the SBOE, manage the appointment of superintendents, and control the district’s annual budget for education.

Citizens are welcome to attend all school board meetings (unless there are legally specified circumstances that state otherwise), and there’s generally time set aside for public comments at each meeting.

Running for your local school board is a great way to get more involved in shaping how your district educates students! While there are a few general requirements for running in your district, you don’t need to have a background in public education, government, or public policy to make a great addition to your local school board.

Why Do the Standards Set by the Texas State Board of Education Matter?

The Texas SBOE is one of the largest bodies of elected officials in the state. SBOE districts are enormous, and just one state board of education member has more constituents – about 1.6 million – than any other elected official in Texas.

They control everything that is learned in Texas public schools, on every subject. They review curriculum standards, and textbooks are published based on those standards.

What happens here doesn’t just stay in Texas: We’re one of the largest markets for textbooks, meaning major national publishers will create textbooks based on our standards and revisions. Other states will then purchase those textbooks, and students across the country will receive an education that was not decided by their own state or school district, but by the Texas SBOE.

These standards have often been criticized inside and outside of Texas, as well.

In 2020, Texas students petitioned for revisions to a McGraw-Hill textbook based on the state’s standards that referred to enslaved people as “workers” and compared the Atlantic slave trade to other “patterns of immigration.”

And there are notable differences between our textbooks and the other largest market, California–differences that have drawn national attention, even from the conservative Fordham Institute, which called the 2010 standards “a politicized distortion of history.”

How Can Texans Make Sure Our Schools Teach the Truth?

As our president and executive director, Val Benavidez stated during our Teach the Truth launch, “Texas students do not need book bans and censorship. What they need is an education that allows them to see themselves represented and to learn from our past in order to build a better future for themselves and our country.”

You have the power as a member of the community to reject censorship and book banning.

Enact change by proactively organizing on your local school board, attending regular meetings, testifying at the State Board of Education, and letting your state representatives know that you will not tolerate the creation of standards that distort our nation’s history, erase the stories of Black and Brown communities, and devalue the experiences of LGBTQIA+ people. By taking action, parents will be the decision-makers in their child’s education – not politicians with a personal agenda. 

Join our #TeachTheTruth campaign to receive updates on 2022’s SBOE meetings and revisions and to learn more about getting involved with our movement to fight educational censorship.