States

Election Loosens Conservatives’ Hold on Texas Board

By April Castro, Associated Press — March 09, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Texas state school board’s influential Christian conservative bloc was weakened last week after one of its most prominent members lost a primary election to a moderate Republican. Another reliably conservative seat was headed to a runoff.

Don McLeroy, the former chairman, was handed a GOP primary defeat by lobbyist Thomas Ratliff.

Since the group of conservatives has been in the majority on the board, the national spotlight has shined on Texas’ controversies over evolution and social studies standards. (“Vote Draws Near on Texas Curriculum,” May 21, 2008, and “Texas School Board Backs More Inclusion in Social Studies Draft,” Sept. 30, 2009.)

The winner of the primary contest conceded that Mr. McLeroy had never injected his religious beliefs into textbooks. Still, Mr. Ratliff had criticized the 10-year board veteran for what critics see as Mr. McLeroy’s far-right views.

In deciding what goes into textbooks, the 15-member state board wields considerable influence nationally because Texas is one of the biggest clients for publishers.

“Voters sent a clear message by rejecting the ringleader of the faction that has repeatedly dragged our public schools into the nation’s divisive culture wars over the past four years,” Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, which opposes the Christian conservatives’ initiatives, said. “Parents want a state board that focuses on educating their kids, not promoting divisive political and personal agendas,” she said.

Nevertheless, social conservatives claimed at least one victory as incumbent Ken Mercer of San Antonio successfully fended off a Republican challenge from Tim Tuggey, a lawyer from Austin. And conservative Brian Russell forced an April runoff with educator Marsha Farney for the seat held by an outgoing member of the Christian conservative bloc, Cynthia Dunbar.

“I hope we can keep our conservative posture,” Mr. Mercer said of the board. He’ll face Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau in November.

“It’s not anybody’s ideology,” he said. “It’s just keeping the promises we made.”

Primary results aside, the seven conservative Christians on the current board will have votes this spring on the adoption of a new social studies curriculum, a task that has been chock full of ideological flashpoints.

Curriculum Choices Ahead

While early quibbles over how much prominence to give civil rights leaders such as Cesar Chavez and the inclusion of Christmas seem to have been smoothed over—neither will be removed from the standards—board members are crafting dozens of amendments to be raised for consideration before the first vote this month.

Mr. McLeroy, who believes that Earth is only 6,000 years old and that the Christian influences of the Founding Fathers are important to the study of American history, saw the state legislature strip him of the chairmanship last year following criticism of his outspoken views on creationism and support for teaching what he asserts are the weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

Ms. Dunbar has drawn the most attention in her single four-year term by writing that public schools were a “subtly deceptive tool of peversion.”

Mr. McLeroy, Ms. Dunbar, and five other conservative Christians on the current board have secured majorities when picking up votes from one of three other Republicans or five Democrats.

One of the board’s more moderate Republicans, Geraldine Miller, also lost her primary bid to keep the seat she has held since 1994. But little is known about her successful challenger, George Clayton, an English teacher from Dallas, and it wasn’t clear last week where his votes might align. Mr. Clayton did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Democrats Rene Nunez and Lawrence Allen Jr. are both running for re-election; Mr. Allen is unopposed. No Democrats filed to run for Mr. McLeroy’s seat in November.

Last week’s elections were the first since the board tackled the evolution curriculum in 2008. During the heated debate that ultimately cost Mr. McLeroy his chairmanship, the board decided Texas schools would no longer have to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. Teachers still would be encouraged to consider “all sides” of scientific theories.

A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Election Loosens Conservatives’ Hold on Texas Board

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States Some States Want to Lock in Universal Free School Meals as Federal Waivers End
The pandemic-era waivers let students regardless of income get free school meals and drew wide use nationally.
4 min read
Norma Ordonez places a tray of grilled cheese sandwiches into an oven to warm as she prepares take-away lunches for students kept out of class because of the coronavirus at Richard Castro Elementary School early Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in west Denver.
Norma Ordonez places sandwiches into an oven to warm as she prepares take-away lunches for students at Richard Castro Elementary School in Denver in 2020.
David Zalubowski/AP
States Opinion Searching for Common Ground: The Parental-Rights Bill, aka the 'Don’t Say Gay’ Bill
Rick and USC dean Pedro Noguera discuss Florida's law curbing gender and sexuality talk and its impact on students, teachers, and parents.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
States Texas Governor Sparks Backlash With Talk of Rolling Back Free School for Immigrant Kids
Critics assailed Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's idea as “hare-brained” and “cruel.”
Robert T. Garrett, The Dallas Morning News
5 min read
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
Eric Gay/AP
States How Laws on Race, Sexuality Could Clash With Culturally Responsive Teaching
Critical race theory and culturally responsive teaching are not the same thing. But bans of one could impact the other.
7 min read
Illustration of diverse hands being raised.
iStock/Getty