Sweeping Away the SBOE’s Authority

by TFN

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has just filed legislation that would strip the Texas State Board of Education of all authority assigned to it by statute. Among the board’s powers that would go away: setting curriculum standards and adopting textbooks. That authority would be transferred to the Texas Education Agency.

The only authority the board would keep under Senate Bill 440 is power granted under the state Constitution, primarily managing the Permanent School Fund. Removing that authority and eliminating the board altogether would require passage of a constitutional amendment, followed by approval from Texas voters.

We noted last month that state lawmakers had begun looking at ways to rein in the deeply politicized board. We wouldn’t be surprised to see additional legislation targeting the board.

All of this comes as the state board flies farther into the outer political fringes under the control of a far-right bloc headed by Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station. McLeroy, a creationist, has called for redefining science to include supernatural explanations. Board member  and fellow creationist Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, has written a book calling public education a “tool of perversion,” “unconstitutional” and “tyrannical.” Last spring the board’s far-right faction threw out three years of work on new language arts curriculum standards by teachers and curriculum experts. The faction instead pushed through a replacement version of the standards patched together the night before the final board vote.

Currently, creationists on the board are trying to dumb down the public school science curriculum and force publishers to insert phony attacks on evolution in new science textbooks up for adoption in 2011. (Click here to learn about TFN’s Stand Up for Science campaign.)

What the Texas Legislature ultimately will do is, of course, hard to know at this stage. Clearly, however, lawmakers are becoming increasingly embarrassed and agitated by how ideological extremism and political shenanigans on the board are influencing what Texas children learn in their public schools.