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So what is the point of the SBOE, anyway?

Here’s another story about the difficulties of SBOE redistricting, and it’s got me wondering why we bother having an elected body called the State Board of Education.

This legislative session, lawmakers are working on redrawing the 15 districts based on new census data — released every 10 years — but a rise in population has made the task difficult and left some pushing to enlarge the board.

State Rep. Burt Solomons, a Carrollton Republican who heads the House Redistricting Committee, said that by the time the next census is done, some members will represent more than 2 million people.

“That’s unreasonable,” Solomons said.

Solomons said in drawing the new map, which was approved by his committee this month and is waiting to be brought before the House for a vote, it became clear that there is a problem as the population continues to grow.

He said he plans to ask House Speaker Joe Straus to take a look at restructuring the board after the session.

“There needs to be some resolution before the next census,” Solomons said.

His push to restructure the board has drawn support from both Democrats and Republicans.

State Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who ran for a spot on the board twice, said its districts are twice the size of congressional districts.

“Nobody knows who their State Board of Education member is unless they’re in the news for misbehaving,” Howard said.

My SBOE member is Terri Leo, who happens to represent one of the smallest geographic districts. I know she’s my SBOE member because it says I’m in SBOE6 on my voter registration card. I also know that at least in the last decade, I’ve never received any form of communication from her about what she or the Board are doing or how I can give her feedback. You’ll note there’s nothing on her rather primitive website for any of that, either. You can make a contribution, however, and you can marvel at the fact that her own website misspells her name (see where it says “What people are saying about Terry”?). Way to set a good example, Terri!

Well, maybe that’s just Terri Leo. Maybe Charlie Garza has a legitimate complaint about how much driving he’d have to do to meet his constituents, and maybe Donna Howard is right about knowing your SBOE member. The problem I have with this thinking is that whatever the merits or demerits of a 15-member Board, we can’t expand it enough to make the geography less of an issue. There are 31 State Senators, and some of them have massive, multi-county districts, too. Hell, so do some of the 150 State Reps. I’m certainly open to the idea of expanding the SBOE if by doing so we can make it more diverse, but if you’ll pardon the expression, the geography issue is too big to solve by this method.

Which leads to my question: Why do we need geographic representation on the SBOE? How are the issues that the SBOE deals with – curriculum standards and management of the Permanent School Fund – different for people in El Paso and Houston? The geographic representation we have now is a joke anyway. My urban neighborhood is stuck in Terri Leo’s far-flung suburban district; because of this pairing and the GOP’s partisan needs, Leo is (and has been in the past) the only person who will be on my ballot next year that is both subject to the redistricting process and a Republican. Travis County, as always, is split apart to ensure only Republicans represent it. I might be more sympathetic if these districts made geographic sense, but they don’t. Given all of the other issues, why do we even bother?

If we must have a State Board of Education, I don’t see how we’d be any worse off with an all-appointed board that was subject to some diversity requirements as well as Senate oversight. Really, given that curriculum expertise and fund management are not skill sets that necessarily go together, it would make more sense to dissolve the SBOE, put the curriculum function into the Texas Education Agency, and create a separate board to manage the PSF. Or forget the TEA, create a separate entity for curriculum oversight like the appointed body I mentioned before. Tell me how this would be less representative or less competent than what we have now.

I don’t think any of that is likely to happen, now or in the future. I won’t be surprised if there’s enough momentum for expanding the Board, to maybe 21 members or some such, to get on the agenda in the future. That may allow for some diversity, which is all to the good, but at best it will make a small and temporary dent in the district size problem. I say it’s better to give up on that and think outside the box. What do you think?

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6 Comments

  1. blank says:

    This is only loosely related to the topic, but it looks like Roberto Alonzo has SBOE two plans on District Viewer.

  2. Lauren Bingham says:

    Looks like someone’s reading your blog–Ms. Leo’s website has since been corrected. Great job, Sharles.
    Best,
    Lareen

  3. Ha! So it has. Thanks, Lareen. ;-)

  4. [...] that the answer is a resounding Yes, they’re too damn big. The real question, as I’ve asked before, is why do we need goegraphically-based SBOE districts at all? I don’t get what purpose that [...]

  5. [...] I’ve said before, the question is not so much whether the SBOE is the right size but why we need it to be [...]

  6. [...] for abolishing the HCDE as an elected office – it’s basically the same argument for abolishing the SBOE as an elected office, in that very few people understand its function and the districts are far too large for [...]

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