Future Bright for Texas SBOE

For too many years, the Texas State Board of Education has had a reputation for being out of step with public education, or even the public at large. Our history has been colorful, to say the least.

So it is with a sense of pride and camaraderie that I can report that the current board is doing things many observers thought impossible just a few years ago — working on real issues facing our schools in a thoughtful and bipartisan way.

Admittedly, this is from my own perspective, and not everyone will agree with my assessment. But allow me a few specifics.

  • Since 2012, we have added nine new members, each with his or her own unique background and experience, but all with a heart for kids in their district. We don’t always agree on things, to be sure, but we are speaking from a basis of what is best for parents, kids, teachers, and school districts across the state. We don’t view issues through a March primary lens. This may seem like a small step, but it is one giant leap for the board.
  • In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2804, establishing the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. This was a joint effort involving several stakeholders of public education. Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Bahorich was allowed to select one of the board’s 15 members to serve on this committee. She chose Erika Beltran, a Hispanic Democrat from Dallas. Donna didn’t choose her for political reasons. She chose her because she felt she could do the job well and represent the board in a thoughtful and bipartisan manner. This kind of bipartisanship is the “new normal” for the majority of the board, and our students, parents and school districts are the direct beneficiaries.
  • Earlier this year, a former member of the board submitted a toxic textbook related to Mexican-American studies. This book has garnered the kind of negative and inflammatory attention the board saw in previous years — ironically during the tenure of this former member. However, the current board has seen this book for what it is, and there is every indication that it is headed for a resounding defeat at our meeting later this month. And I don’t think we will have to rip the cover off of the book to justify rejecting it. We have literally turned the page on these types of issues and stunts.

Now, let’s turn to the election results from Tuesday.

Keven Ellis will take my place for the 31 counties in District 9 that include cities like Sherman, Texarkana, Lufkin and Tyler. He was most recently the president of the Lufkin ISD school board, and his 3 kids attended public school. He has seen the challenges and opportunities for public schools at the local level and has a real-world understanding of what those schools and their families need from the SBOE. Candidly, he is more qualified for the job than I was when I ran seven years ago. I have no doubt that District 9 will be well represented by Keven for at least the next four years.

The other new face on the board will be Georgina Perez, replacing Martha Dominguez in District 1, which represents the 40 counties in the Southwestern part of the state stretching from both women’s hometown of El Paso to Bandera and Del Rio. Perez will bring her passion, energy and heart for kids and her community to her service on the board. District 1 residents will have a strong advocate in their corner.

No government body will ever be perfect, and there will be the unavoidable flare-ups due to the emotional and important stakes riding on many issues. But the State Board of Education has made strides to become representative of all Texans, and as I step down, I can see a bright future ahead.

Curated from tribtalk.org


No Contested Seats on SBOE Change Parties

If the presidential contest was a nail biter, races for who would control education for 5.2 million Texas children largely proved to be snoozers. Not a single contested seat on the 15-member State Board of Education appeared poised to change political hands Tuesday, cementing ideological dynamics on the governing body that approves textbooks and education standards in a state that has made waves debating issues like creationism in its curriculum.
“I don’t really see a change. We’ve worked really hard and the board’s been very committed to working together, putting children above all,” said Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, a Houston Republican who easily defeated her Democratic challenger by a double-digit margin. “It’s not possible to have absolutely no controversy.”
In the closest Board of Education race of the night, Republican Ken Mercer of San Antonio led Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau by only a few percentage points after losing most of a 20 percentage point lead he had gained from early and absentee voters.Mercer, an IT project manager, is one of the most conservative members of the board as a defender of creationism, skeptic of climate change and a believer that the division between church and state is not a constitutional principal.

Democrats have wanted to defeat Mercer for years and hoped that recent fervor over a controversial Mexican-American heritage history book critics lambasted as racist would draw Latino voters in San Antonio to vote him out and replace him with Bell-Metereau, an English professor at Texas State University.

The rest of the races for the state board were blowouts, with Republican members outperforming their Democratic counterparts with double-digit leads. State Board of Education districts are generally politically safe seats, with 10 favoring Republicans and five solid for Democrats. Most contests are decided in the primary election where the battle is over ideology rather than political party.

Four seats held by Republicans were left to partisan contests. In Houston, Bahorich easily outran Democratic challenger R. Dakota Carter, a 28-year-old psychiatrist who would have been the youngest and first openly gay member to serve on the board.

Republican Keven Ellis, a chiropractor and business owner in District 9 north of Austin, trounced Democrat Amanda Rudolph, a professor at Stephen F. Austin State University. Ellis, a moderate, will take over for Thomas Ratliff who strove to get the increasingly political board to set aside partisan differences. In the district pinched between Houston and Austin, incumbent Republican Tom Maynard crushed his Democratic challenger, Judy Jennings, a director of assessment evaluation for Resources for Learning LLC, an education firm.

Curated form the Houston Chronicle


Republicans Prevail in Texas State Board of Education Races

Republicans seeking re-election to the State Board of Education managed to hang onto their seats Tuesday despite speculation that the unpopularity of the candidate headlining the GOP ticket, Donald Trump, may flip certain races. And one newcomer seeking an open seat in a deeply conservative East Texas district easily bested his Democratic rival.

The GOP’s margin of victory in three contested races may have been smaller than it would have been without Trump at the top of the ticket, but they still handily beat their Democratic challengers. (Trump also secured a smaller percentage of the vote than Republicans normally enjoy in deep red Texas but still beat Hillary Clinton.)

The race that remained notably close as returns rolled in was District 5 in South Central Texas; San Antonio Republican Ken Mercer ended the night with a 4 percent lead over San Marcos Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau (Libertarian candidate Ricardo Perkins had clinched the remainder of the vote).

It was Bell-Metereau’s third time challenging Mercer, a fixture of the board’s far-right faction whose margin of victory over her shrunk to just 51.3 percent in 2012 and settled just below that — 49.6 percent — on Tuesday. Political scientists and state board observers said the race was the one Democrats had the greatest chance of winning amid a combination of Trump’s unpopularity in the state and the latest round of redistricting making the district less red.

The boundaries of most state board districts are drawn in such a way that they are safe for either Republicans or Democrats — mostly the former — meaning seats flipping from Republican to Democratic representation, and vice versa, are rare. (The last time it happened was in 2012.) The board’s current makeup includes 10 Republicans, who usually are seen as either moderate or extremely conservative, and five Democrats.

Tuesday’s election did nothing to change that.

In the race for GOP-friendly District 10 — another Central Texas-anchored seat — Georgetown Republican Tom Maynard – bested Austin Democrat Judy Jennings by nearly 13 points. It also was Jennings’ third time to challenge Maynard, who is considered one of the more moderate Republicans on the board.

Board chairwoman Donna Bahorich, a Houston Republican, secured a second term representing District 6 by nearly 12 points despite big passion and rhetoric from Houston Democrat Dr. Dakota Carter, a 28-year-old adolescent psychiatry resident and educational doctoral student. Libertarian candidate Whitney Bilyeu secured nearly 4 percent of the vote.

And in deeply conservativeDistrict 9, Lufkin Republican Keven Ellis beat Nacogdoches Democrat Amanda Rudolph by a very wide margin. Ellis, a chiropractor who had a much tougher primary race, ended the night with a more than 50-point lead over the Stephen F. Austin State University professor. (The remaining 3 percent of the vote went to Libertarian candidate Anastasia Wilford.) The East Texas-anchored district opened up when Mount Pleasant Republican Thomas Ratliffdecided not to seek re-election.

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The GOP’s good showing Tuesday is a win for conservative members of the state board who are mounting a fight to keep creationism in Texas’ science curriculum standards. Determining the big topics teachers must impart on the state’s more than 5 million schoolchildren is one of the board’s biggest duties, along with approving textbooks.

In September, a panel convened by the Texas Education Agency voted to strip creationist language from science standards written in 2009 when the state board’s far-right faction was larger. The state board will decide whether to accept the panel’s recommendations early next year, all but guaranteeing another ideological fight. The board has become known for them.

Board Democrats, who will surely support dropping creationist language from the science standards, gained a more vocal ally Tuesday. In the race for District 1, El Paso Democrat Georgina Perez beat Green Party candidate Hugo Noyola Jr. by 66 percentage points.

Perez, a self-described “MeXicana Empowerment Specialist” whosays the board’s Democrats have sat silent for far too long, has already proven to be far more outspoken than her predecessor, Democrat Martha Dominguez, who decided not to seek re-election this year.

Curated from the Texas Tribune


Trump trickle-down could impact education board races | The Texas Tribune

Approving textbooks, crafting curriculum standards and setting graduation requirements for the state’s more than 5 million public school students. The role of the Republican-dominated Texas Board of Education remains undoubtedly influential even as the Legislature has removed some of its powers over the decades following a series of embarrassing kerfuffles.

The stakes rarely get much buzz during the general election season, however. That’s because the 15 sprawling districts are drawn to be friendly to Republican or Democratic candidates — mostly the former — meaning the shakeups are usually reserved for the spring primary elections.

But several Democrats aiming to unseat incumbent Republicans from the education board this fall say this year could be different.

Those candidates — two of whom are running for the third time — say the relative unpopularity of the Republican at the top of the ticket, Donald Trump, will help propel them to victory in the Nov. 8 general election. And observers and experts say their contention isn’t too far off base.

At least one SBOE race is “very much in play,” said Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones. He’s referring to District 5, where Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau is attempting to unseat incumbent Republican Ken Mercer for the third time. The district reaches from Austin to San Antonio, extending northwest to cover several Hill County counties such as Llano and Kerr.

“People are starting to look at the Republican brand with a little more skepticism. I can’t help but see it as helping me.”— Rebecca Bell-Metereau, Democratic candidate for State Board of Education

While Mercer — a fixture of the board’s far-right faction — is still the favorite to win, Jones noted the district is now “pink, not red” after the latest round of redistricting. With Trump also headlining the ticket, “the race stands to be the most tightly contested SBOE general election contest in more than a dozen years,” Jones wrote in an email.

Several recent polls show Trump is statistically tied with Democrat Hillary Clinton in GOP-friendly Texas.

Bell-Metereau, 66, a Texas State University English professor and former Fulbright scholar, notes that Mercer’s margin of victory has gotten smaller each time she’s run against him. In 2012, with Green and Libertarian party candidates on the ticket, Mercer, 61, an IT project manager and former state representative from San Antonio, won re-election with 51 percent of the vote. This year, there are only three candidates on the ticket, including Libertarian Ricardo Perkins, providing even more hope to Bell-Metereau.

“People are starting to look at the Republican brand with a little more skepticism,” she said. “I can’t help but see it as helping me.”

Like other Democratic candidates, Bell-Metereau has been inspired to run in large part by the extreme views espoused by Mercer and other members of the board’s social conservative bloc, whose membership has diminished somewhat in recent years. The manifestation of those views — in the form of curriculum, textbooks and agonizing ideological debates — has grabbed national headlines for years now and inspired legislation to rein in the board’s power.

Most recently, the board has garnered scrutiny over a ninth-grade world geography textbook that casually described African slaves as immigrant “workers.” Next month, it is expected to decide whether to approve another textbook for high school Mexican-American studies courses that scholars and Hispanic activists describe as blatantly racist and historically inaccurate. (The publisher is a former board member.)

The board also is moving to narrow biology curriculum standards before next school year, all but guaranteeing more fireworks over how to teach evolution.

Eight of the board’s seats are up for election this year, with six Republican incumbents seeking re-election. Only three general election races are contested, however, including one where Democrat Georgina Pérez and Green Party candidate Hugo Noyola Jr. are vying to represent District 1 in far West Texas, which is up for grabs after Democrat Martha Dominguez decided not to seek re-election. Pérez is a 41-year-old former teacher and University of Texas at El Paso education doctoral student being supported by several El Paso state lawmakers; Noyola, 26, works in Laredo as a production assistant at a local television station.

Jones said District 10, where Democrat Judy Jennings is challenging incumbent Republican Tom Maynard of Georgetown — also for the third time — is in play, too, although to a lesser extent. The district is wedged between Austin and Houston.

“Maynard remains a very heavy favorite to win in a district where Republicans enjoy a 10-point cushion even in the worst of times (pre-Trump worst of times, at least),” he said. “At this point, the best Democrat Judy Jennings can likely hope for is to keep Maynard’s margin of victory in the single digits.”

Maynard, 52, is one of the more moderate Republican education board members. The former school board member now heads the Texas FFA Association, a youth group focused on agriculture. Jennings, 62, formerly worked in the accountability division at the Texas Education Agency and now oversees assessment at Resources for Learning, an education consultancy.

Ten of the 15 board members are Republicans. With Trump at the top of the ticket, the margin of victory for incumbent Republicans in other races — SBOE and otherwise — may also be slimmer, Jones said.

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning organization that closely monitors the education board, agreed.

“SBOE districts are so gerrymandered that general elections often aren’t competitive, but I think it’s true that the Trump disaster has at least the potential to shake things up in a lot of races up and down the ballot,” he wrote in an email, adding that “it probably helps challengers that some state board members sound so much like Trump.”

Dr. Dakota Carter, the Democrat trying to unseat Republican board chairwoman Donna Bahorich, said “I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised Nov. 8.” Libertarian Whitney Bilyeu and Laura Palmer, a Green Party candidate, also are in the race.

“Unfortunately, what happens is these school board positions don’t get a lot of attention and usually go the way that several of the more well-known races go,” Carter said. “And so I think Donna has a real shot of this being her only term.”

The 28-year-old Houston adolescent psychiatry resident and education doctoral student acknowledges he faces an uphill battle, especially as an openly gay candidate running in a conservative-leaning district. He also faces a steep climb given Bahorich’s relative popularity. The local teachers union — usually quick to endorse a Democratic candidate — has decided not to pick a side this time, praising Bahorich for her collaborative leadership style. The 61-year-old community volunteer and Republican Party activist worked for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick when he was a state senator — first as his campaign manager, later as his district director, campaign treasurer and communications director.

District 9 is the SBOE district Jones said is least likely to pick a Democrat to serve, describing it as the least anti-Trump out of all of them. The massive, 30-plus county district spans deeply conservative East Texas and also is up for grabs with incumbent Republican Thomas Ratliff not seeking re-election.

In that race, Democrat Amanda Rudolph, a 43-year-old secondary education professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, is facing off against Republican Keven Ellis, 45. The Lufkin chiropractor’s primary race grabbed national headlines because of his opponent’s extreme comments, including allegations that President Obama worked as a prostitute in his early 20s to fund a drug habit. Libertarian Anastasia Wilford, a 29-year-old biochemistry student at the University of Texas at Tyler, also is in the race.

Read more of the Tribune’s related coverage:

  • In September, Hispanic advocates, activists and elected officials from across the state called on the Texas Board of Education to reject a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook they blasted as racist and inaccurate.
  • The publisher of one of Texas’ controversial social studies textbooks has agreed to change a caption that describes African slaves as immigrant “workers” after a Houston-area mom’s social media complaints went viral.
  • In a stunning comeback, State Board of Education candidate Keven Ellis won a Republican primary runoff over Mary Lou Bruner, who drew national attention for objectionable social media posts.

Curated form the Texas Tribune