Policy Brief

Texas Board Feud Stirs Up Legislators

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The Texas state board of education drew worldwide attention recently when its members tussled over the theory of evolution’s place in the school curriculum.

Now, some Texas lawmakers are convinced that those decisions should be left to somebody else.

Fed up with the controversy brought on by the board’s debates over divisive issues like the teaching of evolution, a bipartisan group of state legislators has proposed stripping the 15-member board of its decision making power over curriculum and textbooks.

If they have their way, it will mark a major change for school publishing—not just in Texas, but nationwide. The Texas board wields considerable power because publishers recognize the state’s large share of the market and cater to its demands.

The board’s influence helps explain the interest in its prolonged debate over revision of state science standards. The new document, approved last month, removed language calling for students to learn the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including evolution, which pleased scientists, though they had a more mixed reaction to other sections. ("Retooled Texas Standards Raise Unease Among Science Groups," April 8, 2009.)

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Ken Seliger, a Republican from Amarillo, would remove the board’s authority to approve textbooks and curriculum and hand it to the state education commissioner, currently Robert Scott. The commissioner would make decisions based on the recommendations of teams of subject-matter experts—appointed by him.

The bill was heard in the Senate education committee on April 14, though that panel had not voted on it as of press time last week. The measure has yet to be considered by the full House or Senate.

Jeremy Warren, a spokesman for Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat who is also a sponsor of the bill, said legislators from both parties believe the board has strayed from its core mission.

The board’s meetings have "degenerated into political and theological discussions that have nothing to do with schools," Mr. Warren said. "Senator Ellis believes it’s time for the Texas legislature to step in and perform its oversight role."

Vol. 28, Issue 30, Page 16

Published in Print: April 29, 2009, as Texas Board Feud Stirs Up Legislators
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