A Less Powerful Texas Board?

By Sean Cavanagh — April 16, 2009 1 min read
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A proposal to strip the Texas board of education of its powers to approve curriculum and textbooks is moving forward in the state’s legislature. The basic idea of the bill, which is sponsored by Republican lawmaker Kel Seliger, is that the board has become too consumed with political-cultural debates, as evidenced by the recent evolution-in-the-science-standards saga, rather than the nitty-gritty of school policy.

The measure would shift responsibility for textbooks and curriculum to the state’s education commissioner (a post currently held by Robert Scott) and to expert committees drafting recommendations on materials. The board would be able to overrule the commissioner’s decisions on those materials—but only with a four-fifths supermajority vote, according to this story in the Dallas Morning News. Those vote margins have been hard to come by lately on the deeply divided Texas board. The board’s other powers would be left intact.

Needless to say, stripping the Texas board’s power would be a major departure from the current way of doing business in the state. Interest groups and other advocates fight hard to influence content and curricula through board decisions, and because of Texas’ out-sized share of the market, those decisions affect what is taught in other states. I wrote a story a couple years ago about the work of one behind-the-scenes textbook advocate in Texas.

Whether Texas legislation will gain the necessary support remains to be seen. At least one lawmaker quoted in the story voiced concerns that removing the power of board members, who are elected, on textbooks and curricula would effectively limit the public’s influence over the process.

The Texas Freedom Network, which has been critical of the board’s actions on evolution, has a transcript of the speech given by Sen. Kip Averitt, a supporter of the bill, at an education committee hearing. He makes some, well, colorful arguments on the bill’s behalf, let me put it that way.

Of course, after reading this story about the Texas secession movement, I can’t help wondering if all of these decisions would go more smoothly if left to the state’s next president, Chuck Norris.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.