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G.O.P. Gains Control of Texas School Board for the First Time Ever

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Republican candidates for the Texas state board of education made history last week when they claimed the majority of board seats there for the first time.

But Republicans hoping to change the face of the Democrat-controlled state board in Alabama failed to do so, gaining just one seat, for a total of two on the eight-member panel.

Party control of the state board of education also switched--from the Democrats to the Republicans--in Michigan, election results indicate.

Michigan's eight-member board had been evenly split along party lines. However, apparent wins by two Republicans will tilt the board to g.o.p. control by a 6-to-2 margin. Charter schools and the local control of schools are expected to continue to be hot issues for the new board, with Republicans favoring both.

In post-election Texas, the 15-member state board will have eight Republicans and seven Democrats, a net loss of two seats for the Democrats.

Of the eight Republicans, five are returning incumbents, and three are new faces. One, Richard Watson, won an open seat that was already held by a Republican, and two others, Donna Ballard and Randy Stevenson, defeated Democratic incumbents.

There were seven races for Texas board seats, but one was an uncontested bid by a Republican incumbent, Monte Hasie.

The three new g.o.p. board members are half of a slate of six conservatives who shared fund-raising and campaign materials.

Texas Races Well Funded

In addition to the unprecedented Republican majority, it was also the first time that candidates running for the Texas board of education spent six-figure sums on their campaigns, according to some estimates.

The change in party membership on the board comes as it prepares to make a number of important decisions.

The term of Commissioner of Education Lionel R. (Skip) Meno--an appointee of the outgoing Democratic Governor, Ann W. Richards--ends next year. The state board will recommend its choice for the job to the Governor-elect, George W. Bush.

The board could also pull Texas out of participation in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the Clinton Administration's standards-based school-reform strategy. A Texas Goals 2000 panel has already been selected, but the strategy has been highly controversial in the state. Conservatives have viewed participation as opening a door to excessive federal influence on public schools.

And several textbooks will be up for review by the state board in the coming term.

Republicans running for the board made textbook content an issue. One campaign flier circulated by Mr. Watson, one of the new Republicans on the board, reads, in part: "The majority of the state board of education has inserted the corrupt social agenda of their liberal allies in our children's textbooks. ...[Our children] can't pray in school but a stranger can demonstrate how to use a condom, how to masturbate, and how to get an abortion!"

Testing may also be an issue in light of the fact that conservatives campaigning for board seats called for parents to be able to review student assessments after they have been given. Opponents argue, however, that the cost of rewriting the tests every year would run to the tens of millions of dollars.

Ala. Republicans Fall Short

The Alabama state board is also on the verge of some important decisions, including reviewing textbooks and appointing the first new state superintendent in 20 years. (See Education Week, 10/19/94.)

Eight state board seats were on the Alabama ballot, and the board has six new faces. Two of them are conservative Republicans, although g.o.p. members had hoped to capture seats in all seven of the contested races.

The Rev. Willie J. Paul, an incumbent Democrat, ran unopposed in his race.

The ninth board seat, that of the president, is automatically filled by the governor. Gov. James E. Folsom Jr., a Democrat, last week lost a tight race to former Democratic Gov. Fob James, now a Republican. (See related story)

Both Republicans occupying regular board seats are newcomers, since the board's lone Republican, Bettye Fine Collins, gave up her position for local office. Her seat remained Republican, with David F. Byers Jr. beating Dean McMinn, a Democrat.

It was in one of the board's most closely watched races that the other Republican emerged triumphant. The race also marked the only defeat of an incumbent, Dan Cleckler, who was soundly beaten by Stephanie Bell.

Another Democratic incumbent, the board's vice president, Ethel H. Hall, fended off her Republican challenger.

Ms. Bell heads the grassroots group score 100, which has been an outspoken opponent of Mr. Folsom's(See education reforms. Ms. Bell and other critics refer to the Governor's reform plan as "outcomes-based education." Ms. Bell also said last week that she opposes Goals 2000. Both Ms. Bell and Mr. Byers send their children to private schools.

"Before Tuesday, what you had was a board totally controlled by Governor Folsom, and [the board] walking in lock step with him," Ms. Bell said in an interview. "What you will see now is debate over what direction reform should take."

Alabama is under court order to overhaul its schools to make them more equitable, and the state board must implement reforms under court-ordered deadlines. Mr. James has said, however, that he intends to appeal the court order.

In Other States

Elsewhere, conservative candidates who campaigned against outcomes-based education made inroads into the Colorado and Kansas boards, where candidates are identified by party, and into the nonpartisan Nebraska board.

In New Mexico, Democrats retain their majority on the state board, although by a narrower margin than before.

Last week, states held a total of 11 partisan and nonpartisan elections for state boards of education, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. Voters in Hawaii, Nevada, Ohio, and Utah also selected state board members.

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