A renewed effort by Texas legislators to put the State Board of Education under Sunset review fizzled this past weekend under pressure from Senate leaders. It appears that Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, had rounded up enough Democratic and Republican votes to add the requirement to House Bill 1959 (which deals with various other agencies under Sunset review). Sen. Ellis’ amendment didn’t allow for the abolishment of the SBOE — it simply provided for a one-time review of whether the board works efficiently and performs as expected by taxpayers and the Legislature. But Senate leaders stepped in and blocked Sen. Ellis’ effort on Saturday.
Similar legislation that would have put the SBOE under periodic review by the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission failed in the House last month. HB 710 got preliminary approval on second reading but failed to win final passage the next day when Republican leaders made its rejection a required demonstration of party loyalty. (The SBOE currently has a 10-5 Republican majority.)
Another bill to rein in the SBOE’s authority, Senate Bill 2275, has failed to get out of committee even though three Republican senators are co-authors. And legislation to shift management of the Permanent School Fund from the SBOE to professionals who know what they’re doing is also growing mold while it sits in the Senate Education Committee.
So we wonder: why have Republican leaders put party politics ahead of the interests of Texas schoolchildren?
If left alone by party leaders, individual Republican legislators have shown they understand that the needlessly divided and increasingly dysfunctional SBOE has become an embarrassment to the state and an obstacle to ensuring a quality education for our kids. But GOP leaders don’t seem to care.
It now appears that this session will end on June 1 without any major SBOE reform bills having passed (except for HB 772, which requires that SBOE meetings be Webcast by video and audio and now needs the governor’s signature to become law). So for at least another two years, moderate Democrats and Republicans on the SBOE will have to continue their battle against a powerful faction of extremists who are determined to drag our public schools into the nation’s culture wars.
Perhaps here’s the answer to our question: Republican leaders have decided that those divisive culture war battles will be useful in bringing out the party base in the 2010 elections. So blocking SBOE reform has become a priority for party leaders who use faith as a political weapon and see our kids’ education as an acceptable casualty in the culture wars. They have elections to win, after all.
During his Senate confirmation hearing last month, SBOE Chairman Don McLeroy warned that the upcoming revision of social studies curriculum standards could be even more divisive than the battle over evolution and science standards was. So when the McLeroy faction makes good on that warning — as it appears to be doing already — remember what happened in this legislative session. Remember who blocked common sense reforms that would have put the interests of Texas schoolchildren ahead of party loyalty.