Bill would limit education board's power to set policy
Because of bickering, Senate authors say, most authority would shift to appointed commissioner.
By Kate Alexander
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
The pitched political battles over several recent State Board of Education decisions could lead the Legislature to strip the board of most of its authority to set curriculum standards and choose textbooks for public schools.
"I'm not sure that we're serving the best interests of our children at this time," said Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, an author of the bill, which the Senate Education Committee considered Tuesday. The committee did not vote on the proposal.
Both Republicans and Democrats on the 15-member elected State Board of Education are equally at fault for the "partisan bickering and fighting" that has marked recent debates over science and language arts curriculum standards, Averitt said.
"All I hear is that the Republicans want to push their religious views into the curriculum, and the Democrats want to teach our children how to masturbate," Averitt said during the committee hearing Tuesday.
Senate Bill 2275 would give the state's education commissioner, who is appointed by the governor, the authority to approve the curriculum standards and textbooks based on the recommendations of a group of educators. The board members, however, could override the commissioner's decision with a four-fifths vote.
State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, said that under the proposal, only the "education establishment" would shape curriculum and textbook decisions and that the board would simply become a rubber stamp.
"There is nobody to question them if this bill is passed," McLeroy said. "What is wrong with having a debate?"
The political process ensures that parents and Texas voters have a voice in what students learn, he said.
"Regular people have a say-so with the State Board of Education because they elect us," McLeroy said.
But students' needs are overwhelmed by the controversy, said Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, another author of the bipartisan bill.
The proposed approach would ensure educators with experience and expertise in teaching the academic subjects can shape the curriculum and pick the textbooks without political interference, he said.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said he was concerned that the change would mean the people of Texas would no longer have a hand in such critical decisions if the elected state board were essentially removed from the process.
Last month, the board stirred controversy with new science curriculum standards that critics say open the door to attacks on teaching evolution.
University of Texas biology professor David Hillis said the result of that decision is: "Texas students now have a weakened science curriculum, and the science reputation of the state has been seriously injured." This bill will "keep the focus of education on education, rather than on politics," Hillis said.
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