New State School Board Gets to Business


American flag and Texas flag in classroom | Image by WFAA

The first meeting of the new Texas School Board of Education (SBOE) following the November election saw the influential board settle into its new makeup.

In addition to flipping a longtime Democrat-held district, the Republican caucus on the SBOE grew noticeably more conservative as candidates who campaigned on school choice, removing allegedly obscene books from school libraries, and limiting exposure to potentially non-age-appropriate material won both primary and general elections.

With Republicans holding a comfortable 10-5 majority, four of the GOP members represent the party’s more conservative wing.

The meeting, originally scheduled to start on January 31, had to be delayed until February 2 due to inclement weather. In an extended session on February 2, the SBOE debated rules and organized into various committees.

During the second day of the meeting, Gov. Greg Abbott swore in the members and gave a speech encouraging the SBOE to make Texas number one in education, as reported by The Dallas Express.

The new conservative bloc of the SBOE repeatedly voiced concerns that some of the courses and curriculum being voted on could potentially be in violation of Texas law that bans the teaching of Common Core methodology.

In one of the agenda items pulled for discussion, the board considered approving an Advanced Placement (AP) course to receive Texas high school credit according to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements in mathematics.

Newly elected board member LJ Francis (R) noted that the College Board had not finalized the AP course summary, suggesting that, if the SBOE approved the course now, they would have no way of ensuring the final product did not violate state law.

“How are we ensuring that the final product will align with our Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and … wouldn’t violate the Common Core prohibition in the state of Texas?” Francis asked.

Others who had served on previous iterations of the SBOE suggested that the prior history of cooperation with the College Board in approving Advanced Placement (AP) classes for Texas credits lent itself to accepting the proposal.

Board member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D) pushed back against claims that the AP course could include Common Core methodology.

“It would be foolish of us to not count these courses toward state credit if colleges and universities are accepting them for credit,” she suggested. “I think the use of Common Core as an excuse to not pass a course like this is just a boogeyman.”

Will Hickman (R) explained that “he had voted on this twice in the past in the affirmative,” going on to add, “my daughter is actually registered for this class for next year, and my older daughter has taken about eight to 10 AP classes.”

“I see all the materials, and I see the courses, and I’ve seen no concerns, and so — for the sake of my daughter — please pass this one,” Hickman concluded, eliciting some laughs.

After extended discussion with staff, legal counsel, and among the board members, Board Member Staci Childs (D) moved for the item to be put to a vote. The new conservative bloc was ultimately outvoted as the other Republicans joined with the Democrat caucus in a 10-4 vote, with Chairman Ellis abstaining.

The rest of the consent agenda items were addressed in turn without much debate, and the meeting was adjourned.

The main issue addressed throughout the abbreviated two-day meeting, however, was the decision to recommend removing anti-school choice language from the SBOE’s recommendations to the 88th session of the Texas Legislature.

As reported by The Dallas Express, the SBOE voted 8-5 as the committee of the whole to later recommend for a final vote to remove the section from the recommendation.

Some groups have criticized the decision, including Pastors for Texas Children, which has drawn attention from state officials for its opposition to school choice.

“Vouchers will fail in TX, once again, for many reasons,” the organization claimed. “But the main reason is the immoral, deceitful, end-justifies-the-means, lying double-speak the voucher people spout. All their gobbledegook boils down to this: You subsidize their affluent private schools.”

Mary Elizabeth Castle, director of government relations for Texas Values, applauded the decision, however, suggesting to The Dallas Express that she has high hopes for the new SBOE.

“Texas Values is very pleased that the Texas State Board of Education chose to neutralize their stance on school choice,” she explained. “Both the Governor and Lt. Governor stated in their inauguration speeches that school choice is a top priority this legislative session.”

“Many legislators have filed bills in favor of school choice already,” Castle continued. “The SBOE did the right thing in choosing to be unified with our state leaders and legislators.”

“I have great expectations for the new members who were sworn into office this week … and we are pleased with the larger majority of conservative candidates on the board,” she added.

The Dallas Express reached out to Board Member Perez-Diaz and the Texas Association of School Boards, which has voiced anti-school choice policies, for comment but did not receive a response.

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