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Texas Mulls Changes in Textbook-Adoption Process

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Caught in a financial brier patch, Texas education officials are considering ending their free-spending approach to selecting textbooks.

The state board of education was scheduled to vote late last week on proposed rules that could alter the way in which districts select books, as well as frighten away publishers and widen the gulf between wealthier and poorer school districts.

The major procedural changes that the board is considering include setting a price ceiling for each textbook category and incorporating ancillary materials into the textbook-adoption process.

In addition, the state board may decide to forgo approving textbooks that were developed in response to specifications drawn up in 1992 for classroom use in fall 1995.

Should that occur, representatives of the publishing industry say the action will chase away more publishers in Texas.

"The state adoption process is in tumult in Texas,'' said Gilbert T. Sewall, the director of the American Textbook Council, an independent textbook-monitoring group in New York.

During the past few years, a number of textbook-related problems have arisen in Texas. In 1991, the public and policymakers were in an uproar over errors that appeared in U.S. history texts. (See Education Week, Nov. 20, 1991.)

Last winter, the state board demanded that publishers make more than 300 changes in health books, chiefly to emphasize sexual abstinence. At least one publisher withdrew from the project. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)

What precipitated the most recent crisis was the development of a basal reader for elementary school students.

'Mercedes Benz' Basal

The state education agency spent nearly all of its $280.3 million textbook budget for the 1993-95 biennium on the reading system.

Approximately $5 million was left over to pay for all of the other texts for which the state had written specifications and listed on what is called the proclamation.

The remaining funds were sufficient to buy 7th-grade science texts for classroom use only.

All of the other books, including health, pre-calculus, geometry, business law, and supplementary readers, have been placed on a priority list for future purchases.

"The proclamation committee came up with the Mercedes Benz of a book,'' said Trish Conradt, the assistant director for governmental relations for the Texas School Boards Association.

To prevent such a situation from recurring, Lionel R. Meno, the commissioner of education, recommended that the state set a price ceiling for each textbook category.

The industry is receptive to a ceiling because it will know up front the maximum it can spend on the development of the educational materials.

Meanwhile, though, publishers have not been paid for most of the materials they developed as a result of the 1991 proclamation. And the state may not buy anything off the 1992 list.

"Our hope is the legislature, before it's all over, will fully fund the adoption,'' said Joe Bill Watkins, the Texas lobbyist for the American Association of Publishers.

If the state breaks with its long tradition of buying what it has sought, however, Mr. Watkins believes publishers will become more squeamish about conducting business in Texas.

Statistics from the publishers' association indicate that publishers are more willing to do business in California and Florida than they are in Texas.

In the most recent rounds of requests for new elementary reading, mathematics, and science textbooks, publishers submitted roughly three times more books to California and two times more to Florida than to Texas.

"The reason is clearly the risk of doing business in Texas,'' said Roger R. Rogalin, the vice president of the A.A.P.'s school division.

Lawmakers have indicated that they may come up with additional funds to provide the science books for all 7th graders but have warned that more money is not likely.

"They either should have looked for less expensive books or perhaps delayed adoption of the next selection,'' said State Senator Jane Nelson, a former member of the state board.

Under the Texas system, districts can buy any books they choose, but the state pays for only those that it has approved. As a result, wealthier districts are able to buy newer books, while poorer districts may go without, Ms. Conradt said.

Missing Mr. Bush

Some districts may end up with 10-year-old social-studies texts, Mr. Rogalin said. "They will miss the whole Bush Presidency.''

The current system also allows districts to select ancillary materials that have not been reviewed by the state.

Education officials have proposed halting this practice, however, because of complaints about inappropriate materials, such as some that have been used in sex-education classes, and about districts that select one text over another because of free ancillary materials.

"Some people felt the publishers used the ancillary materials as marketing tools,'' said Joey Lozano, a spokesman for the education agency.

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