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David Bradley

Just don’t call it “Mexican-American studies”

The SBOE does its thing.

Marisa Perez-Diaz

Texas advocates for Mexican-American studies classes won a bitter victory Wednesday, gaining approval to move forward with the class they wanted but losing the course title.

The State Board of Education had been debating more than four years over how and whether to offer teachers materials and guidance to teach Mexican-American studies. In a preliminary vote, the board voted nearly unanimously to create curriculum standards for the elective class. But now it will be called “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”

A final vote on the issue [was] scheduled for Friday.

The class will be based on an innovative course Houston ISD got state approval to offer in 2015. Texas Education Agency staff will make any needed changes to that set of curriculum standards and then bring it back for the first of two public hearings and votes in June.

Lawrence Allen Jr., a Houston Democrat, was the only member to vote against the newly named course, expressing support for Mexican-American studies but criticizing the new title.

Starting a fierce debate with Democrats on the board, Beaumont Republican David Bradley proposed the new name for the course. When asked why he didn’t want to keep “Mexican-American studies,” he said, “I don’t subscribe to hyphenated Americanism. … I find hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.”

“As someone who identifies as Mexican-American, your experience is unlike my experience,” San Antonio Democrat Marisa Perez-Diaz retorted. “I’m asking you to be inclusive.”

See here for more about the HISD course that was the model for this, and here for more about David Bradley, who has done this kind of crap before. The final approval was given Friday, but not without further controversy.

Tension continued to mount Friday even after State Board of Education members gave final approval to going forward with a new Mexican-American studies high school elective but refused to keep the class’ original name.

“Discrimination.” “Cloaking bigotry.” “Bull.” Those are words Marisa Perez-Diaz of the Texas Board of Education used in a statement to describe the board’s decision to rename a long-sought-after “Mexican-American Studies” elective course “Ethnic Studies,” a decision that has touched off a new wave racial tension.

While members of the board voted unanimously to create a high school elective that delves into Mexican-American studies Friday, nine Republicans on the board insisted on renaming the course “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent” after David Bradley, a member from Beaumont, said he rejects “hyphenated Americanism.”

“Today was not a victory, but a slap in the face,” said Perez-Diaz, a Democrat from Converse who is Mexican-American, said in a statement Friday. “The time has finally come to call this what it is … DISCRIMINATION!”

In a long press release she posted on Facebook, Perez-Diaz said the board’s vote told her and the state’s Mexican-American students to identify themselves as “Americans of Mexican Descent.”

“The time for cloaking bigotry and/or fear of diversity under the guise of ‘patriotism’ and ‘Americanism’ is over,” she said. “My experience is as American as apple pie, because guess what, my ancestors were on this land well before it was conquered and named America.”

You can read her full statement here. Among other things, she notes that the courses African American Studies, Native American Studies, Latin American Studies, and Asian Pacific Islander American Studies were all approved. Just not “Mexican American studies”. You do the math. TFN has more.

Even the SBOE opposes vouchers and the bathroom bill

A rare bout of sanity.

The Texas State Board of Education is known for its conservative ideals, but a majority of its Republican members said Tuesday they oppose GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s demand that lawmakers pass a school voucher program and a bathroom law in next month’s special session.

Most of the education issues Abbott wants lawmakers to consider during their 30-day special session should be left to local school districts rather than dictated by the state, six Republican members of the board told the Houston Chronicle Tuesday. The six board members all said vouchers were a bad idea. Two members said they supported the Legislature taking up the issues and two others were unavailable for comment.

“Overwhelmingly, each and every member of the board looks at public education in a light that says, ‘We’re doing everything we can to promote, protect and serve the interests to some extent of public education,'” said Marty Rowley, a Republican member from Amarillo who said he opposes school vouchers and contends school leaders can manage student bathrooms. “Everyone’s perception of what school vouchers do is it doesn’t serve public education in the best manner.”

[…]

The governor also wants the Legislature to pass a bill regulating which bathrooms transgender students should use in schools — another issue considered by Patrick as a top priority.

Board members said few, if any, of their constituents or school leaders have expressed concern over how to handle bathrooms, and said schools should continue to have the flexibility to made accommodations on their own.

“There are ways for districts to deal with that,” said David Bradley, a Republican from Beaumont who votes with the board’s conservative faction. Studies have found fewer than 1 percent of Texans are transgender, and “the 1 percent does not drive policy making for the other 99 percent,” he said.

I mean, if even David Bradley thinks the bathroom bill is a waste of time, what more do you need to know? I literally can’t think of anything to add to this.

Precinct analysis: SBOE districts

There are 15 members on the State Board of Education, five Democrats and ten Republicans. Of those ten Republican-held seats, four of them were in districts that were interesting in 2016:


Dist   Incumbent  Clinton   Trump   Obama  Romney
=================================================
SBOE5     Mercer    47.0%   46.8%   42.9%   54.7%
SBOE6   Bahorich    46.3%   48.6%   38.8%   59.7%
SBOE10   Maynard    42.5%   51.6%   40.5%   57.0%
SBOE12    Miller    44.4%   50.1%   38.7%   59.7%
SBOE7   Bradley*    37.1%   59.2%   35.2%   63.6%

Dist   Incumbent    Burns Keasler Hampton  Keller
=================================================
SBOE5     Mercer    43.5%   51.3%   41.7%   53.7%
SBOE6   Bahorich    41.5%   54.8%   38.5%   58.7%
SBOE10   Maynard    39.8%   54.7%   40.1%   54.9%
SBOE12    Miller    39.1%   56.6%   37.7%   58.8%
SBOE7   Bradley*    35.9%   60.9%   36.6%   60.8%

I included David Bradley’s numbers here because his will be an open seat in 2018, but as you can see he really doesn’t belong. Add Ken Mercer’s SBOE5 to the list of districts that were carried by Hillary Clinton. I hadn’t realized it till I looked at the data. I had previously identified Mercer’s district as a viable target last year, and indeed it was a close race – he won by four points and failed to clear fifty percent. SBOE terms are four years so the next shot at Mercer isn’t until 2020, but he needs to be on the priority list then.

Districts 6 and 10 were also on the ballot last year and thus not up again till 2020. District 6, which is entirely within Harris County, shifted about seven points in a blue direction, and while I’d expect it to continue to shift as the county does, it’s still got a ways to go to get to parity. With SBOE districts being twice as big as Senate districts and generally being completely under the radar, getting crossovers is a challenge. District 10 didn’t really shift much, but it’s close enough to imagine something good happening in a strong year. District 12 is the only one on the ballot next year, and it’s the reddest of the four based on the downballot data. But if there’s a Trump effect next year, who knows what could happen. It certainly deserves a decent candidate. Keep it in mind as we go forward.

David Bradley not running for re-election to SBOE

Good-bye.

David Bradley

Beaumont Republican David Bradley, one of the State Board of Education’s most conservative members, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection Monday.

First elected in 1996, Bradley said he has gotten tired of rehashing old debates on the board and said it is time for someone new to take up the position.

“It’s the same debates. It’s the same arguments, and they come out with the same outcomes,” Bradley told the Houston Chronicle.

The businessman was an early supporter of charter schools and took pride in “pushing back against far-left political pressure to water down textbooks and academics,” he said in a statement. His tenure is laced with criticism from left-leaning groups for his staunch conservatism.

Bradley is about 96% terrible, and I’ll be glad to see him go. Open seats are always opportunities, but one should keep one’s expectations in line, because Bradley’s district was carried by Trump by a 59-37 margin. Which is closer than the 64-35 margin for Mitt Romney in 2012, but still not exactly swing territory. This might be a good opportunity for the Texas Parent PAC to find a non-terrible Republican for the primary, as a win there for someone who actually supports public schools and doesn’t want them teaching creationism or racist history would be nice. Bradley leaving is good, but only if the person who replaces him isn’t worse.

SBOE rejects that lousy Mexican-American studies textbook

Nice.

The State Board of Education voted 14-0 Wednesday to deny the adoption of a Mexican-American studies textbook decried by opponents as racist and inaccurate.

The textbook, titled “Mexican American Heritage,” was the only submission the board received when it made a 2015 call for textbooks for high school social studies classes, including Mexican-American studies.

But critics say the book is riddled with factual, “interpretive” and “omission” errors and doesn’t meet basic standards for use in classrooms.

Wednesday’s vote wasn’t the last step, as the board will take a final vote Friday. The only board member not present for the vote was David Bradley. In emails obtained through a state open records request by Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning advocacy group, the Beaumont Republican had written that a “lack of quorum on [the book] would be nice. Deny the Hispanics a record vote. The book still fails.”

With as much dignity and gravity as I can muster, I say “Neener neener” to you, David Bradley. It’s what you deserve.

The Chron reports on the hearing at which opponents of the textbook far outnumbered its supporters.

State education board members on Tuesday grilled the publisher of a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook about alleged errors, all but promising to reject the proposed book later this week.

Members of the State Board of Education are poised to vote Friday on whether to adopt “Mexican American Heritage,” a textbook that university professors and historical experts argue is riddled with errors, cherry-picks sources and claims immigrants have radical ideas that pose a cultural and political threat to American society.

“This book offers one thing. It offers hatred. It offers hate toward Mexican-Americans,” said Ruben Cortez Jr., a member from Brownsville.

Board members from both parties spent nearly two hours of a public hearing peppering Momentum Instruction CEO and owner Cynthia Dunbar about reported errors in the proposed textbook.

“You have submitted a textbook that will be rejected” from landing on the state’s preferred textbook list, said board member Erika Beltran, D-Fort Worth, who criticized Dunbar for failing to recall the credentials of the book’s authors. “We’re not just talking about a textbook on Mexican-American heritage, we’re talking about the education of 5 million kids.”

[…]

Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who said in September the book was “dead on arrival,” stressed the board needs to focus on the errors that Dunbar has refused to fix.

“I’m not a scientist, but I know enough to know that communism does not cause natural disasters,” said Ratliff, referring to a passage in the textbook that links the two. Dunbar said the passage was “not a verified factual error,” then later agreed to change the sentence.

Emilio Zamora, a University of Texas at Austin professor who reviewed the text, accused the authors and publisher of arrogance by refusing to acknowledge the problems.

“Not once do they agree with any of our findings of error – not once,” said Zamora, shaking his fist behind a podium before the state board. He and a team of professors reported finding 407 errors in the book’s latest version.

See here and here for some background, and here for the report on how crappy this textbook was that SBOE member Ruben Cortez’s ad hoc committee put together. This issue won’t go away for long. The SBOE will put out another call for a hopefully non-crappy textbook, so there should be more submissions in the future. And just to make this all the more fun, to-be-rejected publisher Dunbar is threatening a lawsuit if she gets rejected, because by God you just don’t do that in Donald Trump’s America. Or something like that. The Trib, the Observer, the Current, the Texas Freedom Network, the DMN, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

Publisher of crappy Mexican American Studies textbook defends said textbook

It’s not that crappy, she swears.

The publisher of a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook that scholars, elected officials and Hispanic activists have decried as racist and inaccurate is defending the high school text ahead of a public hearing on the book Tuesday before the Texas State Board of Education.

“There’s never been a book in the history of SBOE that’s been attacked so prematurely in the process,” said Cynthia Dunbar, a former right-wing Republican member of the education board who now heads the educational curriculum company that produced the textbook.

The text, titled Mexican American Heritage and published by Momentum Instruction, was the only submission the board received after it issued a call in 2015 for textbooks to be used in Mexican-American studies classes at the high school level. The powerful 15-member panel sets statewide curriculum and approves textbooks.

[…]

Dunbar, who had not previously responded to interview requests, told The Texas Tribune on Monday that criticisms have been overblown and that most of them are based on a draft copy that her company has since revised. Changes include corrections of at least a few factual errors — one identified by an SBOE-appointed review board — and other tweaks in response to public feedback. The passage that implied that Mexican-American laborers are lazy has been “clarified,” Dunbar said, while contending that critics took that particular bit out of context.

“It exposed a racial bias stereotyped against them,” she said, noting that the review board found that the book totally met state curriculum standards.

“The point is there’s no hidden agenda here,” she added.

See here and here for some background. It’s nice that Dunbar says the book has undergone revisions and fixed some errors since it first appeared, but Dunbar has a long history of saying and doing ugly things, so her credibility isn’t very high. I’ll wait to hear from someone more trustworthy before I believe there’s any merit to her publication. In the meantime, the advice of rejecting this book and (one hopes) getting other groups to write them remains sound. See this open letter from SBOE member Marisa Perez for more.

The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be any support for adopting this textbook.

Hundreds of Hispanic advocates, activists, students and elected officials from across the state on Tuesday called on the Texas Board of Education to reject a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook they blasted as blatantly racist and which many scholars have deemed historically inaccurate.

The 15-member education board took public input on the text during an hours-long public hearing at which some of the panel’s Republican members criticized the Legislature for diminishing the education board’s power to vet textbooks.

The panel will vote to accept or reject the text in November, when it will hold a second public hearing.

[…]

Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville, who was so concerned about the text that he convened an ad-hoc committee of scholars and educators to review it, said he believes a supermajority of his colleagues will vote to reject it. (A report his committee unveiled last week found that the text is littered with errors.) Meanwhile, Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, described the text Tuesday as “dead on arrival” and board member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said he has “real concerns” about it.

Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, kicked off the public hearing with a heartfelt message dedicated to “Mexican-American colleagues, friends and neighbors,” assuring them that the board is committed to approving accurate instructional materials that adequately reflect their major role in U.S. society.

“Your story is part of the American story,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have their story told in a fair and accurate manner.”

Several Republican board members criticized Texas legislators on Tuesday for passing laws over the years that have diminished the panel’s authority to decide what textbooks local school districts use. And they warned that their weakened oversight could mean the proliferation of even more controversial instructional material.

They pointed specifically to legislation approved in 2011 that allowed school districts to choose textbooks that haven’t been approved by the board as long as they can show their instructional materials cover state curriculum standards. (Senate Bill 6, passed in the wake of a raucous, high-profile debate over social studies curriculum in which members of the board’s since-diminished social conservative block — including Dunbar — grabbed national headlines for their extreme comments.)

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, and other board members complained repeatedly Tuesday that the law allows for publishers to peddle problematic textbooks directly to school districts. He and former board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked Democratic Hispanic lawmakers who addressed the board if they’d be willing to reconsider those parameters.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, acknowledged that “legislation has a history of unintended consequences and this very well may be a case.”The Senate Education Committee is “looking at everything including this issue you’re bringing up,” state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who is a member of that panel, told the board.

But Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, said the purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was not to “re-litigate” old legislation but discuss whether the text should be allowed in Texas classrooms.

“Not only does this book not belong in the classroom, it doesn’t deserve the attention it’s getting now,” he said.

I agree, but at least all the attention has accomplished one thing, and that’s the real need for a much better textbook. Let’s hope the next time around we get more than one possible candidates for that.

Documenting the ways that proposed Mexican-American Studies textbook sucks

Read the report.

Saying that a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook is “dripping with racism and intolerance,” several educators and students are calling for the State Board of Education to reject the controversial book.

“It is an utter shame we must deal with racially offensive academic work,” State Board member Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville, said Tuesday at a news conference in Brownsville announcing that a committee he convened had produced a 54-page report citing inaccuracies in the proposed “Mexican American Heritage” textbook.

He said the textbook describes Mexicans as people who don’t value hard work and who only bring crimes and drugs into the country. According to the committee’s report, one passage said, “Stereotypically, Mexicans were viewed as lazy compared to European or American workers … It was also traditional to skip work on Mondays, and drinking on the job could be a problem.”

Cortez convened the ad hoc committee — which includes professors and high school teachers — to examine the book being considered for use in Mexican-American studies classes for Texas high school students. A public hearing over the proposed textbook is set for next Tuesday in Austin, and members of the committee will present their report then.

[…]

Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, said he thinks the state needs to focus on preparing students for college before adding courses such as Mexican-American studies. He also believes many school districts with a limited schedule and budget will not be able to add the optional course into their curriculum.

“This is not a required course,” he said. “The use of the textbook is certainly optional to the district. It’s really kind of perplexing as to what all the controversy is.”

Bradley also said he thinks the course is discriminatory toward other ethnic groups.

“Are we not being a little discriminatory in singling out one group?” he said. “I am French-Irish, and you don’t see the French or the Irish pounding the table wanting special treatment, do you?”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the report. I’d like to personally thank Board member David Bradley for elevating the discussion of this issue as only he can. Allow me to respond in kind, Irishman to Irishman: Hey, David, what’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake? One less drunk at the wake. If I were to write a textbook about the history of the Irish-American people, and I were to include that as a True Fact about the Irish, would you consider that a problem, or would you consider that to be a valid scholarly conclusion that should be taught in the classroom? I’ll give you a few minutes to formulate an answer. In the meantime, there will be a #RejectTheText rally in Austin on Tuesday, for those of you who might want to attend. The Current, the Press, and Mayor Turner, who called on the SBOE to reject this textbook, have more.

Next in “What’s wrong with our textbooks”: Climate change

From the inbox:

An examination of how proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools address climate change reveals distortions and bias that misrepresent the broad scientific consensus on the phenomenon.

Climate education specialists at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) examined the proposed textbooks, which publishers submitted for consideration by the State Board of Education (SBOE) in April. NCSE identified a number of errors as well as an exercise that absurdly equates a political advocacy group with a leading international science organization.

“The scientific debate over whether climate change is happening and who is responsible has been over for years, and the science textbooks Texas adopted last year make that clear,” explained Dr. Minda Berbeco, a programs and policy director at NCSE. “Climate change will be a key issue that future citizens of Texas will need to understand and confront, and they deserve social studies textbooks that reinforce good science and prepare them for the challenges ahead.”

NCSE’s analysis is available at http://ncse.com/files/Texas-social-studies-report-2014.pdf.

The distortions and bias in the proposed social studies textbook are troubling, said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

“In too many cases we’re seeing publishers shade and even distort facts to avoid angering politicians who vote on whether their textbooks get approved,” Miller said. “Texas kids deserve textbooks that are based on sound scholarship, not political biases.”

NCSE’s examination of the proposed textbooks noted a number of problematic passages dealing with the science of climate change. Among the problems:

  • McGraw-Hill’s Grade 6 textbook for world cultures and geography equates factually inaccurate arguments from the Heartland Institute, a group funded by Big Tobacco and polluters to attack inconvenient scientific evidence, with information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC is a highly regarded international science organization that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
  • A Pearson elementary school textbook tells students: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.” In fact, the vast majority – 97 percent – of actively publishing climatologists and climate science papers agree that humans bear the main responsibility.
  • WorldView Software’s high school economics textbook includes an inaccurate and confusing section that misleadingly links tropical deforestation to the ozone hole.

These distortions of science raise concerns like those expressed in last year’s science textbook adoption, when more than 50 scientific and educational societies signed a letter to the Texas SBOE stating: “climate change should not be undermined in textbooks, whether by minimizing, misrepresenting, or misleadingly singling [it] out as controversial or in need of greater scrutiny than other topics are given.” That statement is available at: http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/states/2013_TX_SBOE_from_NCSE.pdf

NCSE and the TFN Education Fund are calling on publishers to revise the problematic passages to ensure that political bias doesn’t undermine the education of Texas students. On Tuesday the SBOE will hold its first public hearing on the new textbooks. The board will vote in November.

Last week the TFN Education Fund released a series of reports from scholars who have detailed other serious concerns about the proposed textbooks. An executive summary and those reports are available at www.tfn.org/history.

Here’s TFN Insider and the NCSE on the matter. Given the way the SBOE has handled subjects like social studies and evolution in Texas’ textbooks in the past, this hardly counts as a surprise. There’s a petition to sign if you want to add your name to the effort.

Something else to consider here. When I did a Google news search on Texas climate change textbooks, I got a number of results from various national news sites – Politico, Huffington Post, National Journal (be sure to read their quote from SBOE member and part of the problem David Bradley), Ars Technica, io9, among others – but only two from the major Texas dailies, in the Chron’s Texas Politics blog and the Statesman. (The alt-weeklies did themselves proud, as the SA Current, Unfair Park, and Hair Balls also had posts about this.) Maybe I didn’t type in the right combination of search terms to find more Texas coverage on this, but still. We need to do better than that.

Anyway. This is all happening as the SBOE meets to hear testimony about the new social studies textbooks. You can imagine the capacity for unintentional comedy therein, but you don’t have to imagine it because TFN Insider is there liveblogging the madness. Look and see what’s going on and what sorts of things your kid might be taught someday soon. The Trib, which is also covering the hearings, has more.

HISD board votes for Mexican-American studies class

You would think this wouldn’t be a big deal.

Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

The Houston school board, representing the largest district in Texas, threw its support Thursday behind the creation of a Mexican-American studies course in Texas public schools.

The 9-0 vote followed some debate over whether the district would appear to be favoring one culture over another.

“Unanimous is beautiful,” advocate Tony Diaz said after the decision.

HISD board president Juliet Stipeche, who brought the resolution to the board, argued the course was important given that Hispanic enrollment in the state’s public schools tops 51 percent.

She asked her fellow trustees and district officials whether they could name five Mexican-American leaders in U.S. history. They struggled to name a fifth.

“It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we don’t know,” she said.

In Austin [this] week, the State Board of Education plans to discuss developing new elective courses, including a Mexican-American history and culture class for high school students.

You can imagine what will happen when the SBOE gets involved.

On Wednesday, the Texas State Board of Education is expected to vote on developing state curriculum standards for new courses – including, controversially, a high-school elective class in Mexican-American history.

To proponents, the proposal seems to fill an obvious need. Fifty-one percent of Texas’ public-school students are Hispanic. And in the past, the state has created curriculum guidelines for a host of elective classes, including subjects such as floral arrangement, musical theater, landscape design and turf-grass management.

“If we can inspire a child by teaching about Mexican-Americans’ struggles and difficulties, why wouldn’t we do that?” asks Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, the state board member who proposed the course.

Opponents – likely in the majority on the Republican-dominated state board – answer that question in many ways.

Some argue that school districts don’t need an official state curriculum to offer the class, and say that the Texas Education Agency is too busy now creating guidelines for other classes required by House Bill 5’s sweeping changes to the state’s graduation requirements.

“I think it is up to the local school districts whether or not to offer a Mexican-American studies course,” board chairman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, wrote via email. “Several districts in Texas already do.”

Other opponents of Cortez’s proposal believe it’s simply wrong to offer a state-endorsed ethnic-studies course. They say that it undercuts Texan and American identity.

“I’m Irish,” says board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont. “So I’d like to propose an amendment to create an Irish-American Studies class.

He noted that many HISD students speak Urdu: “Why not Indian-American Studies? That may sound silly. But I’m raising a serious point. In Texas public schools, we teach American history and Texas history. We don’t teach Irish-American history and Italian-American history.”

Board member Patricia Hardy, R-Weatherford, said the state already includes a considerable amount of Mexican-American history in the curriculum. A former social-studies teacher, she argues that a Mexican-American studies class would do students a disservice if it displaces other social-studies offerings.

“World geography or world history would be more to a student’s advantage,” she says. “They need more global courses that are broader than Mexican-American.”

I mean, come on. Do we really need to explain why in Texas a more in depth examination of Mexican-American history might be a worthwhile addition to the curriculum? I might have had a bit more patience for the SBOE’s excuses here if it weren’t for the fact that they had previously voted to remove a specific requirement that students learn about the efforts of women and ethnic minorities to gain equal rights, as part of an overall effort to make the social studies curriculum more acceptable to the tender sensibilities of aggrieved right wing interests. It was bad enough that even conservative scholars and Republican legislators were critical of the changes. All this is doing is trying to undo some of that damage. Stace has more.

SBOE passes anti-voucher resolution

Good for them.

The Texas State Board of Education voted 10-5 on Friday to urge the Legislature to reject proposals that would result in public funds being allocated for private educational institutions.

The resolution, authored by Board of Education member Ruben Cortez, Jr., D-Brownsville, asks the legislature to “reject all vouchers, taxpayer savings grants, tax credits, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools.” It mirrored an amendment the House recently passed to the state budget by a wide margin banning the use of public dollars for private schools.

[…]

Though the resolution eventually passed, it initially endured stiff opposition from a number of board members – including some who said the issue was outside of the board’s purview.

Member Tom Maynard, R-Georgetown, while stressing that he was a “huge supporter” of public schools, said that the board should leave the issue to the legislature.

“I get the voucher question all the time. And my position is, this isn’t a matter for the SBoE,” he said. “This resolution puts us in a position of commenting on things that are not within our constitutional authority.”

Maynard moved to postpone the resolution indefinitely, which provoked a debate about the role of the State Board in evaluating education policy. Member Marisa B. Perez, D-San Antonio, argued that the issue was central to the Board’s responsibilities.

“Saying that it doesn’t fall under our guise is not an acceptable answer to the teachers who are asking for our support,” she said. “Siphoning money from our public schools and turning them over to our private schools is definitely something we should address.”

The question about going outside the board’s duties is a valid one. The SBOE doesn’t have budgetary authority, but they do play a role in school finance as the trustees of the Permanent School Fund. I don’t have a problem with them passing a non-binding resolution, but I admit I’d feel differently if they had voted in favor of vouchers. I wonder if they were motivated in part to take this action by getting their noses out of joint over their potential loss of charter school oversight.

Only one of the board members explicitly endorsed the proposals condemned in the resolution – Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas.

“I believe in the American right to educate my children in the manner that I want,” she said. In addition to Miller and Mercer, other board members that voted against the resolution were chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, and David Bradley, R-Beaumont.

Yes, of course my SBOE member supported vouchers, even though she once said she wouldn’t. Don’t blame me, I voted for Traci Jensen. Hair Balls has more.

Land Board throws the Lege a curveball on school finance

Oops.

In the waning days of the 82nd Legislature, state lawmakers came up with a plan to help cushion the blow of $5.4 billion in cuts to public education.

State Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, proposed a constitutional amendment that he said could bring an additional $300 million to public schools. It unanimously cleared both the House and Senate. Orr’s measure became Proposition 6, which voters passed in November.

But that money has hit a roadblock on its way to public schools — and what looked like an easy fix for hard-pressed budget writers last May has turned into a headache that awaits their return in January.

The amendment allowed the School Land Board, which operates out of the General Land Office, to put a portion of earnings from investments on real estate assets into the Available School Fund, which along with property and sales taxes helps pay for public education. Last week, the little-watched board that oversees the state’s public school lands decided not to distribute the money. Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who sits on the three-member board, said it wanted to protect the funds for upcoming investment opportunities.

Usually the proceeds from the sale and management of public school lands would go into a $26 billion trust whose revenue feeds into what’s called the Available School Fund. Proposition 6 made it so the School Land Board, if it chose, could bypass that step and put money directly into the fund.

“We anticipated this funding for public education,” said Jason Embry, a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. “We’re evaluating the impact on the budget and working with Commissioner Patterson to ensure there is no impact to public schools.”

Whether lawmakers should have expected the money is a matter of dispute. But the $300 million made it into the budget as part of general funds used to support school operations, contingent upon the constitutional amendment’s passage in November and the School Land Board’s approval of the transfer. During the special session last June, the Legislature added a provision to the appropriations bill that reduced general revenue funding to public education by $300 million if the amendment passed. It was to be replaced with the same amount from the Available School Fund with the board’s approval — but there was no provision to add that money back in if that didn’t happen.

“I was told that there would be $300 million going into the Available School Fund. Everything was put in place to allow to that to happen,” said Orr, who said the General Land Office agreed to transfer the money if the amendment passed. “I believe it needed to happen, so I’m not sure why it didn’t.”

Patterson said he did not recall committing to a transfer of the money and that his office had been unable to find “any evidence or documents or memos or testimony” that he did.

“I don’t have any control over what was written into the budget or what was made contingent. I don’t know who wrote that in there or why,” he said. “Somebody wrote a contingency rider assuming the answer would be yes.”

See here, here, and here for some background. If you look in the comments on those posts, you will see that Commissioner Patterson was never on board with this idea, so if the Lege was assuming that the School Land Board was going to go along with this idea, well, you know what they say about those who assume. I don’t think I realized till I read this story that the Lege had actually appropriated the $300 million based on that assumption; I must have been assuming that they would have made a supplemental appropriation at a later date once the Land Board signed off on it. Let that be a lesson to me. They’ll have to make a supplemental appropriation now, so you can add another $300 million to the Lege’s tab of unmet obligations from 2011. Good thing the Rainy Day Fund is full, because we’re really going to need it next year.

“Rather than trying a real solution to school finance they keep doing the little gimmicks and sleight of hands,” said David Bradley, the Beaumont Republican who chairs the Board of Education’s finance committee. “The Legislature is the problem. It’s totally improper for them to be pulling that kind of money out of these trust funds to use for general revenue funding.”

I hate having to agree with David Bradley, but he’s right. It’s on the Lege to fund school finance, and with the job they’ve been doing it’s no wonder we’re back in court a mere seven years after the last lawsuit was decided. I’m sure this seemed like free money to them – I admit, my first reaction was along those lines – and maybe that helped salve a bit of the guilt from having slashed $5.4 billion (and having voted to slash over $10 billion) from public education. But it was never a solution even if it did work.

GOP results, statewide

Full, though not necessarily the most up to date, results, are here. The Trib and the Observer have good roundups as well.

– Mitt. Yawn. He was at just under 70% statewide, with Ron Paul getting 11% and Rick Santorum 8%. You have to wonder what might have been if Santorum had held on through May.

– Dewhurst and Cruz in a runoff, with the Dew getting 45% to Cruz’s 33%. I will not be taking bets on the outcome of that one. Tom Leppert had 13% and Craig James – cue the sad trombone – was below 4%. Why did he get in this race again? And did he really think he had crossover appeal? Geez.

(UPDATE: Mike Baselice, Dewhurst’s pollster, says every Republican candidate with over 43 percent going into a statewide runoff during the last 20 years has gone on to win. So Cruz may as well go ahead and concede now, right?)

– Christi Craddick and Warren Chisum will go into overtime for Railroad Commissioner, as will Barry Smitherman against Greg Parker. Supreme Court Justice David Medina got less than 40% in a three-way race and will face the will-he-never-go-away? candidate John Devine.

– All incumbent Congressfolk easily won re-nomination, with Campaign for Primary Accountability targets Ralph Hall (59%) and Joe Barton (63%) not particularly bothered. Kenny Marchant in CD24 was on some people’s watch lists as well, but he got 68% in his race. The two open seats for which the GOP is heavily favored in November were interesting. Roger Williams will duke it out with somebody, most likely Wes Riddle as I write this. Michael Williams was a total dud, finishing with just over 10% and in fifth place. Over in CD36, what in the world happened to Mike Jackson? Steve Stockman (!) and somebody named Steve Takach were neck and neck for the runoff slot. The other open seat, CD14, saw Pearlanders Randy Weber and Felicia Harris make it to the second round.

– The first signs of carnage are in the SBOE races. David Bradley, Barbara Cargill, and thankfully Thomas Ratliff all won, but George Clayton was headed to a third place finish in his four way race – Geraldine Miller, whom Clayton knocked off in a 2010 shocker, was leading the pack – and in a race that sure wasn’t on my radar, SBOE Chair Gail Lowe lost to Sue Melton. Where did that come from? The open SBOE 15 seat to replace Bob Craig was the closest race, with Marty Rowley leading Parent PAC-backed Anette Carlisle by 2000 votes.

– State Sen. Jeff Wentworth will have to keep running in SD25, as he had about 36% of the vote with 75% of precincts in. His opponent in July, in a blow to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, will not be Elizabeth Ames Jones, however, as Donna Campbell took for second place. I hope Wentworth can do better in overtime, because Campbell would make the Senate even dumber than Ames Jones would have. Former State Reps. Kelly Hancock (SD09), Mark Shelton (SD10, opposing Wendy Davis), Larry Taylor (SD11), and Charles Schwertner (SD05) all won the right to get a promotion in November.

– It’s in the State House that the body count begins to pile up. The following incumbents lost their races:

Leo Berman (HD06)
Wayne Christian (HD09)
Rob Eissler (HD15)
Mike Hamilton (HD19)
Marva Beck (HD57)
Barbara Nash (HD93)
Vicki Truitt (HD98)

Hamilton was paired with James White. Eissler was the chair of the Public Education committee. With Scott Hochberg retiring, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on two new people next year. And no, Eissler wasn’t beaten by someone who wanted to make public education better. Eissler didn’t distinguish himself last session in my opinion, but this is not an upgrade.

Incumbents in runoffs:

Turncoat Chuck Hopson (HD11, 47.15% to Travis Clardy’s 46.30%)
Turncoat JM Lozano (HD43, 41.55% to Bill Wilson’s 44.38% but with only 42 of 69 precincts reporting)
Sid Miller (HD59, 42.48% to JD Sheffield’s 41.50%)
Jim Landtroop (HD88, 34.63% in a four way race to Ken King’s 30.08% with two precincts out)

Speaker Joe Straus easily survived his re-election bid and picked up an opponent for Speaker before the first vote was counted.

– The Parent PAC slate had mixed results:

Texas Senate

S.D. 9: Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless – Lost
S.D. 11: Dave Norman, R-Seabrook – Lost
S.D. 25: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio – Runoff

Texas House of Representatives

H.D. 2: George Alexander, R-Greenville – Lost
H.D. 3: Cecil Bell, Jr., R-Magnolia – Won
H.D. 5: Mary Lookadoo, R-Mineola – Lost
H.D. 7: Tommy Merritt, R-Longview – Lost
H.D. 9: Chris Paddie, R-Marshall – Won
H.D. 24: Dr. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 29: Ed Thompson, R-Pearland – Won
H.D. 57: Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin – Won
H.D. 59: Dr. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville – In runoff
H.D. 68: Trent McKnight, R-Throckmorton – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 74: Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass – Winning as of last report
H.D. 92: Roger Fisher, R-Bedford – Lost
H.D. 94: Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington – Won
H.D. 96: Mike Leyman, R-Mansfield – Lost
H.D. 97: Susan Todd, R-Fort Worth – Lost
H.D. 106: Amber Fulton, R-The Colony – Lost
H.D. 114: Jason Villalba, R-Dallas – In runoff
H.D. 115: Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell – In runoff
H.D. 125: Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio – Won
H.D. 138: Whet Smith, R-Houston – Lost
H.D. 150: James Wilson, R-Spring – Lost

State Board of Education

SBOE 7: Rita Ashley, R-Beaumont – Lost
SBOE 9: Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant – Won
SBOE 15: Anette Carlisle, R-Amarillo – Lost

Unclear to me at this time if this is a net gain, a net loss, or a wash.

– David Bradley won his race, but Williamson County DA John Bradley was trailing as votes slowly trickled in. If that holds, it’s one of the best results of the day.

– Turnout was likely to be around 1.5 million, which will be a bit better for them than 2008 was (1,362,322 votes in the Presidential primary). Clearly, the Senate race drove their turnout. In 2004, they had less than 700,000 votes total.

(UPDATE: Total votes cast in the Presidential race were 1,438,553.)

On to the Democrats…

Three primary stories

TX Trib: 4 Democrats Vying to Replace Hochberg in HD-137

Observers say the winner of the contest for HD-137 is likely to be decided in the Democratic primary, whose four candidates are former Capitol staffers Joseph Carlos Madden and Jamaal Smith, Harris County prosecutor Gene Wu and Alief Independent School District board member Sarah Winkler.

“It’s a [minority-opportunity] district,” [HCDP Chair Lane] Lewis said. “People from all around the world are attracted to the district when they move to Houston. I’ve heard some people refer to it as the United Nations of Harris County.”

Only one Republican candidate, former Houston City Councilman M.J. Khan, is running for the seat. Several Democratic candidates said Khan’s name recognition could make him an opponent to be reckoned with in the general election. Khan has not filed any campaign finance reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Khan and the Harris County Republican Party did not return interview requests.

The Trib has done a number of stories about races like this, and they’ve done a good job of it. As they have done in other such articles, they manage to talk to all of the candidates and actually tell you something about them. It’s the mention of Republican candidate Khan that piqued my interest. As the story notes, he could be a formidable candidate in this Democratic-leaning but not rock solid district; in addition to the other factors cited, Khan could write his own check for the race and easily outspend whichever Dem wins the nomination. Yet so far at least he’s been completely disengaged. Maybe he’s just biding his time on the not-unreasonable theory that no one is really paying any attention right now, but I can’t escape the feeling that being a state legislator is not something MJ Khan has a burning desire to do. I understood his candidacy for City Controller – for sure, if he has it in his head to be Mayor some day, that’s a good way to go about it – but I never got the impression that state issues were a driving force for him. I could be wrong, and if someone out there knows better I’d love to hear from you, but I get kind of a Joe Agris 2008 vibe from him.

TX Trib: Two SBOE Rivals Each Facing Tough Primaries

Two influential incumbents on the State Board of Education — who are often at odds with each other — are both facing primary challenges that could result in a power shift on the fractious board.

Thomas Ratliff won a spot on the board after a 402-vote victory in the 2010 GOP primary over Don McLeroy, who brought international attention to the state with his spirited defense of creationism. Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant native who campaigned on a platform of taking politics out of education, has become one of the Republican-controlled board’s reliably moderate voices.

He has also been a thorn in the side of David Bradley, widely considered the ringleader of the strictly allied social conservatives who led the board to adopt science standards that required educators to teach “all sides” of evolution in 2009 and pushed for ideologically driven revisions to social studies standards in 2010.

During their time on the board, the two have been on opposing sides of issues like withdrawing money from the $25 billion Permanent School Fund to bridge the state-funding gap for public schools, requiring amendments to curriculum to be laid out at least 24 hours before a vote, and handing more authority to school districts for textbook purchases.

Now they both find themselves entangled in what are likely the board’s two most closely watched primary races.

Another Trib story, which I see as being what that lame Chron story should have been. It’s also a reminder that while the potential is there for the SBOE to become less crazy if the likes of Bradley and Cargill get defenestrated, the potential is also there for the pendulum to swing back hard towards Wackytown if Ratliff loses. TFN Insider has a handy list of the candidates to watch out for. It’s a bit unnerving to have to rely on the sanity of GOP primary voters, but for the SBOE there’s not much choice.

TX Observer: House District 26 – As Fort Bend Goes

HD26 under current interim map

Fort Bend has been called a bellwether county so often that it’s easy to become skeptical about the use of the term—even if the description is accurate.

Fort Bend, which sits just southwest of Houston, is among the most diverse and fast-growing counties in Texas, part of the “Big Five” fast-growing suburban counties along with Collin, Montgomery, Denton and Williamson. It has pleasant subdivisions with genteel names like First Colony and Sugar Creek and an abundance of retail outlets along Highway 6, which barrels through Sugar Land, the heart of state House District 26.

After 16 years, Republican incumbent Charlie Howard is leaving the legislative seat once held by Tom DeLay, long before he became U.S. House majority leader. Four Republicans, including two women of color, are running for the open seat.

[…]

HD26 under original interim map

Democrats hope to claim the county through building coalitions among its United Nations assembly of residents. Republicans are also courting the melting pot. Of the four competitors for the District 26 seat, the people of color are—Sonal Bhuchar, a trustee and former board president of the Fort Bend Independent School District, and Jacquie Chaumette, mayor pro tem of Sugar Land. Bhuchar is originally from India. Chaumette is from St. Croix, the U.S. Virgin Islands. The other candidates are Rick Miller, former chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County, and Diana Miller (no relation to Rick Miller), a real estate agent.

Bhuchar and Chaumette have big fundraising hauls and are considered strong contenders in the four-way race. [County GOP Chair Mike] Gibson, not surprisingly, downplays the candidates’ race. “We don’t look at Sonal as South East Asian or Jacquie as Caribbean, but as Americans with strong skill sets that we feel good about running as Republicans,’’ he says.

One thing this article doesn’t talk about is the fact that HD26 is one of the disputed districts in the ongoing redistricting litigation. Plaintiffs claim that districts such as HD26 are protected under the Voting Rights Act as minority coalition districts. In that fashion, a district that is more than 50% minority cannot be retrogressed even if no single racial group has more than a plurality of the population. The state argues that only districts in which a single protected minority is 50% or more does the VRA apply and as such there is no such thing as a protected coalition district; mapmakers are free to slice and dice as they see fit. That was how the Lege treated HD26, which is why it has that bizarre mutant Tetris piece shape, which it retained in the current interim map and which allows it to be a solid red 65% GOP district. In the original interim map, the judges drew a much more compact district that was also near partisan parity – both President Obama and Supreme Court candidate Sam Houston scored a bit over 48% in it. This is one of the questions that the DC court will address in the preclearance lawsuit, whether districts like HD26, SD10, CD25, and CD33 are covered by Section 5. If they rule for the plaintiffs, and if SCOTUS doesn’t come along behind them and gut the VRA, we could see a very different HD26 in two years’ time.

The unhelpful SBOE overview

The premise of this story is good and useful. Unfortunately, the execution falls short.

Rita Ashley

Conservatives and moderates get a rare opportunity this year to try to stack the State Board of Education with members who will help shape public education in the way each side considers best for Texas school children.

All 15 seats are up for re-election this year due to once-a-decade redistricting to reflect population changes.

[…]

Four social conservative board members face GOP primary challenges, and four social conservative candidates are running in four separate districts now represented by moderate Republicans.

Locally, social conservative board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, is retiring and likely will be replaced by another social conservative – Donna Bahorich, of Houston, who is running unopposed in the GOP primary for Leo’s District 6 seat. Three Democrats are running for their party’s nomination, but will run uphill in the Republican district.

Board Chairman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, also a social conservative, is being challenged in the GOP primary by educator Linda Ellis, also from the Woodlands.

Longtime social conservative leader David Bradley, R-Beaumont, faces a serious primary challenge from Rita Ashley, also of Beaumont. Ashley has served as the House Public Education committee clerk.

And that’s pretty much all you get. Maybe I expect too much of these stories, especially when they cover multiple races and candidates. It sure seems to me, however, that a couple of primary battles between hardline conservatives who have been very much on the front lines of the culture wars and more traditional Republicans who actually value public education and want to get stuff done seems to me to be a worthwhile thing to explore in some depth. A quote or two from incumbents Cargill and Bradley, and challengers Ellis and Ashley, would have been nice. Noting that Ashley worked for Sen. Tommy Williams and Rep. Rob Eissler, claims Williams and Rep. Allen Ritter as supporters, and has the ParentPAC endorsement would have been nice, too. Listen to what Linda Ellis has to say if you want some contrast:

Linda Ellis

I’ve dedicated my life to the students and schools of Texas.

Throughout my 28 years as a Texas educator, while working in the schools and classrooms alongside teachers, I’ve always focused on two things: what’s best for students and helping teachers implement best practices in their classrooms.

That’s why, over the past decade, I’ve watched in horror as ideologues took over the State Board of Education and used it as a platform to politically divide our citizens while at the same time ramming their personal beliefs down the throats of Texas students.

With blatant disrespect for educational experts and ignoring local voices, these ideologues have systematically dismantled our state’s once great public school system and turned Texas public schools into material for comedians on late night TV.

They have done everything possible to demean our teachers and demoralize our students.

They are trying to create a new state. A divided state.

They must be stopped.

Now look at what Barbara Cargill is talking about. If there’s not a story in that, I don’t know where you’d find one. Unfortunately, where you won’t find one is in this Chron article, and more’s the pity for it. As for Ashley, her race against Bradley is more of a traditional intra-party pissing contest – see here and here for some less-than-high-minded exchanges – but Bradley has a higher profile than Cargill and is a bit of a bully besides. It’s possible that this primary could be a political career-ender for not one but two Bradleys, which would also be a hell of a story. I don’t think I’ve ever been this interested in the outcome of a couple of GOP primary races, that’s for sure.

Anyway. KHOU has a collection of videos made by area candidates for SBOE, which I found via TFN Insider. The winner in SBOE8 faces a Democratic opponent – Dexter Smith has been the more active candidate of the two running and has garnered most of the endorsements of which I am aware – and while there is no GOP primary in SBOE6 there is a three-way Democratic race for that nomination. I interviewed all three candidates early on in the cycle. Get to know your SBOE candidates so that when they meet next year and begin work on the next textbook or curriculum review you’ll know what to expect.

No calculators for you!

I’m OK with this.

Texas schoolchildren should not use calculators until they learn to work through math problems the old-fashioned way — on paper, State Board of Education members said Thursday.

The board on Thursday tentatively approved new math curriculum standards designed to add rigor while encouraging students from kindergarten through fifth grade to learn basic math without the aid of calculators.

“We hear more and more from parents that their kids in school are being allowed to rely on calculators without actually memorizing their math facts and building that firm foundation,” board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said.

Member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, cast the only dissenting vote against removing calculators from the early elementary grades. The board is expected to take final action on the new math standards Friday.

[…]

“Our objective today is that our kids are required to memorize their math tables and their basic math,” said David Bradley, R-Beaumont, who pushed for the restriction on calculators. “That will then lead to success.”

The board, he said, wants to send a message in the new standards that “calculators are not to be an instructional tool in K-through-5.”

Knight said she believes teachers need flexibility and should be allowed to use calculators as “an enrichment activity.”

“I think it’s nonsensical in this 21st century that we are not having students use the tools at the appropriate time and at the appropriate level because these are the tools that they will be using as they advance through school and in the work world,” she said.

The new math curriculum standards will not ban calculators in the early elementary classes as there is no way to enforce such a prohibition, but Knight said teachers “will interpret the standards as ‘we cannot use calculators.'”

The Board gave its final approval to this and the new math standards on Friday. I don’t really want to invoke the “back in my day” argument, but I did get a degree in math and never once used a calculator in any of those classes. I do think there’s value in using calculators for higher level math, mostly for graphing, and I don’t have a problem with using them in other classes where math is part of what you do – physics, for instance – but I have to agree with Cargill and Bradley here. There’s no substitute for knowing your multiplication tables. I’ve seen people whip out a calculator to multiply something by ten, or to add two two-digit numbers together. That’s crazy, and to my mind represents a failure of that person’s elementary education. Calculators have their place, and I agree with Knight that students do need to know how to use tools to help them do more things more efficiently, but knowing the times tables is a tool, too. Save the calculators till you’re at least in algebra.

A look ahead to SBOE races

Regardless of what happens with the other maps, the one map that was precleared and is set for the next decade is the SBOE. With all 15 members up for re-election (like the Senate, everyone has to run in the first election post-redistricting), there are already some hot races shaping up. This Trib story from a few days back has a look.

Now, with three longtime (and reliably moderate) members stepping down and all 15 members up for re-election because of changes brought about by redistricting, political control over the divisive board hangs in the balance. And even though the filing period has yet to begin, there are already signs that these races could get ugly. Questions about one member’s sexual orientation, for example, are already being raised.

Some board members will also undoubtedly try to oust each other. [David] Bradley, who consistently votes with the board’s social conservatives, said he would be “actively working” against Thomas Ratliff, [Don] McLeroy’s replacement.

Randy Stevenson, a Tyler businessman who served on the board from 1994 to 1998, announced Wednesday that he would run against Ratliff, a registered lobbyist whose clients include Microsoft and whose opponents, because of that, have argued that he should be disqualified from office.

[…]

Bradley has yet to attract a declared opponent, but that’s expected to happen soon. Meanwhile, social conservative incumbents Ken Mercer and chairwoman Barbara Cargill have already drawn primary challengers, as has George Clayton. Bob Craig and Marsha Farney, moderate Republicans, and Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat, have all announced that they will not seek re-election.

Farney was elected in 2010, so while she may have been a moderate, she certainly wasn’t “longtime”. As noted before, all of these races make me nervous. Having to rely on Republican primary voters to do something non-crazy is not a bet you want to have to make. And will a Democrat please file to run against Terri “Don’t call me “Terry” Leo? I promise to contribute to your campaign if you do.

The race in Clayton’s district, which now includes all of Collin County north of Dallas, may prove especially contentious. Clayton, a teacher who lives in Richardson, defeated longtime incumbent Geraldine “Tincy” Miller in an upset during the 2010 primary. Miller now wants her old seat back and has launched a campaign attacking Clayton’s conservative credentials, in particular his support of a plan last spring that would have directed $2 billion from the Permanent School Fund to public schools.

[…]

But perhaps more damaging to Clayton in a Republican primary are the rumors that prompted him to send an email to members of the media last week with the subject line “sexual orientation.” Clayton, who was leaked the notes of a conversation between Miller and Tea Party Activist Susan Fletcher that mentioned his “living arrangements,” confirmed in the email that he has “a male partner who lives with me in my home.”

In a phone interview, Miller said that she was not the one who brought up Clayton’s sexual orientation, but she noted that others have. Fletcher said in an email that she was “urged by several sources in general” to investigate Clayton’s living arrangement — but not by Miller.

Clayton said in an email that when he realized his personal life might become an issue in the campaign, his first instinct was to “nip it in the bud.” That strategy has already cost him one supporter: Conservative blogger Donna Garner, who is a vocal follower of education issues, sent out an email Tuesday night retracting an endorsement of him.

Clayton said the political makeup of the board — and whether “cool heads and reasonable discussions” would prevail — depends on the next election. The board’s biggest responsibility in the next four years, he wrote, will be “to keep public education alive in Texas.”

Clayton’s win over Miller in 2010 might have been the most out-of-left-field result from that year. Nobody knew anything about the guy. He turned out to be an upgrade, so naturally the universe, or at least the Republican Party, is trying to course-correct. As with all of the other races so far, I have a bad feeling about this one.

Day One at the SBOE

Here’s your TFN Insider coverage of today’s SBOE science hearings. In Part I of the hearings, we find that the SBOE may not be such a major factor in school curriculum any more:

10:20  – Board members are quizzing the commissioner about how the new rules governing the purchase of instructional materials — changes codified in Senate Bill 6, passed during the legislative session and signed by the governor earlier this week — will play out in school districts. Commissioner Scott rightly notes that the law represents a sea-change in the way the schools purchase materials.Note: TFN is putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive analysis of this new law and its likely effects on the state board’s role in vetting and approving classroom materials. We plan to publish that analysis in the coming weeks. TFN communications director Dan Quinn previewed our conclusions in a story in today’s USA Today: “It has the great potential to diminish the influence of the State Board of Education.”

And we find that maybe, just maybe, the winds have shifted a bit:

11:20 – Interesting news out of the SBOE Committee on Instruction meeting earlier this morning. That five-member committee has long been dominated by far-right members, but there are signs that a change is coming. The committee’s first order of business today was to elect a new chair, after Barbara Cargill announced she was stepping down. In a move that seemed to surprise Cargill, George Clayton, R-Dallas, nominated new board member Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, as chair. Clayton and Farney, though conservative, have been ostracized by Cargill and the far-right faction. Cargill immediately nominated fellow far-right conservative Terri Leo, R-Spring, and the vote was deadlocked at two votes for each candidate. Democratic board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, is absent from today’s meetings, so the committee moved to postpone the election of chair until the September meeting when Berlanga will be present. Since there is no love lost between Berlanga and the far-right bloc, it seems likely that she will vote for Farney at the September meeting. Could this be a coup, signaling a return to common sense on this critical committee?

We can only hope. In Part II we find that all those annoying pro-science testifiers are making Ken Mercer and David Bradley cry, and in Part I of the debate, we find there’s nothing to be alarmed about just yet. Which counts as good news with the SBOE. Here’s Steven Schafersman‘s coverage; Josh Rosenau has weighed in on Twitter but not yet on his blog. All the Twitter action is on the #SBOE hashtag if you’re into that sort of thing.

Finally, an object lesson in not being able to do more with less:

With one-third fewer people, the Texas Education Agency just can’t do everything it used to do.

State Board of Education members were were told on multiple occasions this morning that a lack of time and staffers had prevented the agency from doing some of the prep work that it would have done previously, such as creating a briefing book on new legislation.

Citing similar constraints, agency staffers said they had yet to produce rules for the implementation of Senate Bill 6, which fundamentally changes how school districts can use state dollars to buy instructional materials and technology. It was passed during the special session last month.

School districts, for example, are waiting to learn how much they will get under the new system to cover the cost of textbooks, hardware, software and other expenses associated with disseminating lessons to students.

Sometimes, when you fire a bunch of people, stuff just doesn’t get done. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

UPDATE: So far, so good. On to tomorrow.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

Why the budget almost didn’t pass in the special session

You may recall that just before the House passed SB1, which was a must-pass bill for the special session and whose failure would have necessitated a second special session, the House voted it down before reconsidering and passing it on a second attempt. The reason for the near-failure weren’t deeply explored at the time, but this Statesman article sheds a little light on it.

Harmony Public Schools, a high-performing charter school network that focuses on math and science, has been the target of activists concerned that its leaders are non-U.S. citizens with ties to Turkey.

Led by the Texas Eagle Forum, a conservative pro-family organization, Harmony’s critics have issued a flurry of legislative alerts in recent weeks that said the state’s $25 billion endowment for “our children’s textbooks” was imperiled by “Turkish men, of whom we know very little other than most are not American citizens.”

They gathered enough momentum that earlier this week some conservative legislators cited the concerns when they voted against a key budget bill — and almost killed it.

But one conservative protector of the endowment, the Permanent School Fund, says the criticism of Harmony is unfounded.

“There is a lot of misinformation, a certain level of fear and a small helping of bigotry that needs to go away,” said State Board of Education member David Bradley, R-Beaumont.

Bradley said he would be the “first to sound the alarm” if there were anything to be alarmed about. But the board has not received substantive complaints from parents of the 16,000 children that attend any of the 33 Harmony campuses across the state, he said.

“The only thing these guys are guilty of are high scores and being Turkish,” Bradley said.

When David Bradley is acting as a voice of reason, you can insert your own cliche about how we’ve gone around the bend, down the rabbit hole, and through the looking glass. The legislators who were cowed by the Eagle Forum will get their investigation, which will likely lead to nothing of substance, not that that’s any guarantee against a subsequent flare-up. Just file this away as another reason why this was the worst Legislature we’ve seen since the Sharpstown days.

Perry appoints Forensic, SBOE Chairs

The new SBOE Chair is not who I expected.

State Board of Education member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, will take the helm as the board’s new chairwoman, Gov. Rick Perry announced Friday.

She will follow Gail Lowe, who was appointed chairwoman two years ago but did not win Senate confirmation during the just-concluded legislative session. Lowe, who returns to her seat as an elected member of the board, also got the position when her predecessor, Don McLeroy, failed to get Senate confirmation in 2009.

I figured Perry would pick David Bradley. I’m sure he has his reasons for going a different route. Cargill is part of the same social conservative bloc, but off the top of my head I can’t think of anything horrible she’s done. Fortunately, we have the Texas Freedom Network to keep track of these things, and their Cargill files can be found here. We’ll see if she can break the streak of non-confirmed SBOE Chairs; she has nearly two full years to convince the Senate that she’s not just another nutjob.

Meanwhile, Perry also named a new Chair of the Forensic Science Commission.

Gov. Rick Perry today announced he has appointed Dr. Nizam Peerwani, a well-known Fort Worth medical examiner, to lead the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

Peerwani, who has served on the commission since 2009, will replace Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley as leader of the panel that has been embroiled in controversy practically since its inception. Bradley, a law-and-order prosecutor, failed to win Senate confirmation during the legislative session that ended last month.

[…]

Peerwani, who was appointed to the commission at the same time as Bradley, is chief medical examiner for Tarrant, Denton, Johnson and Parker counties. His term will expire “at the pleasure of the governor.”

Well, at least he’s a scientist. The Commission could use more of a scientific influence these days. I presume Dr. Peerwani will need to be confirmed as Chair as well in 2013. At this time, I have no particular reason to believe that he will have any difficulty with that. At least, I sure hope that’s the case. Grits has more.

Bradley and Lowe fail to get confirmed

Time for some new chairpersons.

Gov. Rick Perry’s appointments of John Bradley as head of the Forensic Science Commission and Gaile Lowe as State Board of Education chair are officially toast, Senate Nominations Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville said.

“They’re sine die with the rest of us — except they won’t have to come back for a special session,” Deuell said Wednesday after submitting his last round of Perry appointees for Senate consideration.

Since they weren’t confirmed, the appointments of the two chairs will end when the regular session draws to a close Monday.

In the case of John Bradley, that’s almost certainly a good thing. Perry can replace him with another hack, of course, but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing more damage to the Forensic Science Commission than Bradley did. As for Lowe, well, there is still another level of absurdity that can be achieved. And two years from now, we’ll go through this again. Grits has more.

House approves SBOE map

One down, three to go.

A new map for the 15-member Texas State Board of Education became the first redistricting proposal to make its way through the Texas House Thursday afternoon, winning approval on a vote of 99-45.

State Rep. Burt Solomons, the Carrollton Republican who sponsored the legislation and who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, told House members that the map created districts that were as compact and cohesive as possible, maintained communities of interest and met the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.

Solomons easily fended off challenges to his map in the form of amendments from Hispanic lawmakers who contended that he had largely ignored the state’s dramatic Hispanic population growth.

Alternate plans were offered by Reps. Roberto Alonzo and Trey Martinez-Fischer. You can see all three of them here – Alonzo’s plans are E114 and E115, Martinez-Fischer’s is E113. Where Solomons’ plan had three Latino VAP majority districts and two Latino VAP plurality districts, the three alternatives had four of the former and one of the latter. Interestingly, SBOE6, home of Terri “Don’t call me Terry!” Leo, is now the least Anglo of the other ten districts, with Anglos having only a 47.2% VAP plurality. That’s all the result of natural change, as the SBOE6 district didn’t change at all, as far as I can tell. The main difference in Harris County is that David Bradley’s SBOE7 is completely removed, replaced in the far north and east by Barbara Cargill’s SBOE8, and Lawrence Allen’s SBOE4 is now completely within Harris; the bit of Fort Bend County that had been in SBOE4 is now in Bradley’s SBOE7, as is the rest of Fort Bend.

While I expect this map to easily pass the Senate as well (assuming Democrats don’t block it via the 2/3 rule), it’s clear that between this map and the State House map that as little as possible is being done to accommodate Latino growth in Texas. I fully expect that to be the basis of legislation regardless of what happens with the Senate and Congressional maps. There’s more of this story to come.

House moves forward on school fund money

Last week, I noted a bill filed by Rep. Rob Orr that would direct some money from the Available School Fund into the public schools. His legislation has now been approved by committee and is likely on its way to passage; this will include a Constitutional amendment that you’ll see on your ballot this November. While I said this sounded good, not everyone agreed with that assessment:

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who oversees the portfolio affected by the proposal, is among those who disagreed.

“They’re going to raid the fund that was established in 1854, and put in the Constitution as a permanent endowment in 1876, instead of having the (guts) to look at the rainy day fund,” Patterson said after the House Appropriations Committee voted 24-1 for the proposed constitutional amendment and accompanying bill by Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson.

State Board of Education member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, last week called the proposal “insane.”

“They want to cook the goose today rather than wait for a lifetime of golden eggs tomorrow,” Bradley said.

Orr noted the fund’s size: “How much is enough? I do not believe it will hamper the fund whatsoever.”

[…]

The only “no” vote on the House committee legislation Thursday was Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, who said he wanted more information.

“I want to make sure that we’re not making desperate, short-term decisions that jeopardize the ability of future generations to provide for our schoolchildren,” he said.

That’s a good question, and I don’t know nearly enough to answer it. Obviously, the only truly viable fix is to actually deal with the structural deficit, and we all know that ain’t happening. If this does endanger any of these funds, then we shouldn’t be doing this. I appreciate Commissioner Patterson’s perspective, but I would like to hear it from someone who doesn’t have a direct stake in it as well. Does the Comptroller have an opinion on this, or maybe someone like Ray Perryman? We need to hear more about this.

And on a related note, the SBOE gets in the act, too.

Today, Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, delivered a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Speaker Joe Straus signed by nine of his colleagues on the State Board of Education. In it, he said he had found the money — $2 billion — to save approximately 40,000 teaching jobs and fully fund new instructional materials for the state’s public schools.

Its source? The Permanent School Fund.

The board manages the $23 billion fund fed by revenue from taxes and offshore oil-drilling leases and whose interest goes to pay for textbooks and basic operations in public schools. The letter urges the Legislature to pass a resolution allowing the public to vote on a constitutional amendment that would transfer $1 billion each year of the biennium to fund public education.

Six members — the board’s conservative bloc — did not sign the letter. One of them, David Bradley, R-Beaumont, called the proposal “insanity” and emphasized that letter did not represent official action from the board. “Mr. Craig is acting in a rogue capacity,” he said, adding “[He] has delivered this letter without any due deligence and has used to the board’s name as an endorsement.”

Bradley said drawing $2 billion from the fund would “have an impact for generations.”

“By spending the money today, we will not have the four billion [in interest] in seven years, or the eight billion in 15 years,” he said, “It’s extremely short sighted.”

I’m inclined to agree with Bradley on this. This isn’t what the PSF is for. I greatly appreciate the desire of these SBOE members to offset the drastic cuts to public education, but that’s got to be the Legislature’s job. The fact that it ain’t gonna happen is deeply unfortunate and will also have a long-lasting impact, but that’s a problem that will need to be addressed in the next election. Trail Blazers has more.

Bradley’s mission nears its completion

John Bradley won’t get confirmed by the Senate as the Chair of the Forensic Science Commission, but that’s all right. The purpose for which he was put on the Commission by Rick Perry is about to be fulfilled.

Perry, who refused to block Cameron Todd Willingham’s lethal injection in 2004, appointed Williamson County prosecutor John Bradley to take over the forensics commission and the Willingham case in 2009, just days before the panel was to hear a fire expert’s critical report of the original investigation.

[…]

Once in charge, Bradley took steps to slow down the panel’s work and has pushed members to find there was no misconduct by fire investigators in the original 1991 investigation.

The forensics panel is scheduled to meet April 14-15 to consider its final report on the case. GOP Sen. Bob Deuell, chairman of the nominations committee, told The Associated Press that he has been holding Bradley’s doomed nomination without a Senate vote in part to allow him to preside over that meeting.

Bradley doesn’t have enough Senate support for confirmation, and he’d be immediately forced out of his job on the forensics panel if he was called up for a vote and lost, Deuell said. If there is no vote, Bradley serves until the legislative session ends in May.

“Right now he knows he’ll get busted,” Deuell said. “The thinking is even from most of his critics, if not all, is that he needs to chair that meeting. We don’t want a new person to have to start over like he did.”

This critic thinks Bradley deserves the public dope slap that a failed confirmation vote would represent. So does Sen. Rodney Ellis, who was quoted as such later in the story. That said, I do understand Sen. Deuell’s position, and let’s be honest, if the Willingham case remained unresolved Rick Perry would just name another hatchet man to finish the job. Hell, for all we know he’d name David Bradley to fill that slot as well. Nobody has any illusions about Bradley’s role on the Commission, and nobody with any integrity will accept a whitewash from him, regardless of what the record will say. Let’s get this over with and move on. Thanks to Grits for the link.

It’s Bradleys all the way down

Me, March 15, on the subject of SBOE Chair Gail Lowe’s confirmation issues in the Senate:

I feel the same way about this as I did with Don McLeroy’s ultimately scuttled confirmation back in 2009. I have nothing good to say about Gail Lowe, but I have absolutely no illusions that her successor would be any better. In fact, I’d bet money that should Lowe fail to get confirmed, Perry will nominate David Bradley as the next Chair, which will not only ratchet the crazy factor back up to 11, it will also be a big, ironic middle finger aimed at every Democratic Senator. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should vote on this one – the game is rigged, and the choices all suck – but I do think everyone should give it a lot of thought.

Peggy Fikac, March 28, same subject.

It looks like speak-his-mind prosecutor John Bradley’s appointment as head of the Forensic Science Commission will end with this legislative session.

But Bradley’s brother, the equally blunt David Bradley, may benefit if Senate Democrats also block State Board of Education Chairwoman Gail Lowe’s appointment.

What’s more, if Gov. Rick Perry were to name David Bradley to replace Lowe after this regular session ends, senators might not get a chance to weigh in on the appointment until the 2013 regular session (barring a special session).

Perry’s appointments of Lowe and John Bradley are in trouble because a two-thirds Senate vote is needed to confirm nominees. There are 19 Senate Republicans and 12 Democrats.

A couple of Republicans have joined Democrats in opposing John Bradley. Senate Nominations Committee Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, said all the Republicans would vote for Lowe. But that’s not enough. Without a Senate vote, the appointees’ terms end when the session does in May.

David Bradley, a State Board of Education member from Beaumont, is a possible Lowe replacement. He’s a leader of conservatives who’ve made controversial social studies changes that even a conservative group said exaggerates Biblical influence. Bradley once tried to insert President Barack Obama’s middle name, “Hussein,” in a reference to him in history standards.

Lowe, while conservative, is credited with an even hand in presiding over board meetings. Bradley acknowledges he doesn’t have her patience.

I’m just saying.

SBOE wants its new textbooks

But it may not get them.

State board members are growing increasingly anxious that lawmakers might not provide funding for new textbooks and instructional material – even though they’re giving the Legislature $1.9 billion from a 157-year-old endowment established to help schools, including providing free textbooks for students.

Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, warns that students won’t be able to handle tougher school accountability tests without updated instructional materials.

“It’s a moral imperative that you provide the proper instructional material,” Bradley said this week in an effort to focus attention on the conflict.

A unified board insists that lawmakers spend $500 million on textbooks and instructional material for biology, chemistry and physics in high school, and for English language arts and reading in lower grades, Bradley said.

“This is non-negotiable,” he said.

Some legislative leaders, however, question the wisdom of buying new textbooks when schools face up to $11 billion in budget cuts.

“Right now it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend money on textbooks and then fire the teachers who would be using the textbooks,” said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, vice chair of the House Public Education Committee and school finance expert on the Appropriations Committee.

Personally, I think Hochberg has the better argument here, and with the SBOE being short on friends these days, it’s not clear how they will overcome it. Sure, the new STAAR tests will require new materials, but we can always push back the implementation date on that. Given all the other upheaval that schools and school districts will be facing, that seems like the obvious thing to do. It hasn’t sunk in yet with Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro yet, though, as she insists there will be at last $400 million spent on new texts. Something will have to give, that much is for sure. Martha has more.

Republican legislators want SBOE do over on social studies

Good for them.

Texas House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie; Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; and House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; criticized the new [social studies] standards.

Various civil rights and minority advocacy organizations have opposed the standards, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education think tank, gave the standards a harsh review last month, saying they offered “misrepresentations at every turn.”

“When groups like the Fordham Institute call our standards ‘a politicized distortion of history’ and ‘an unwieldy tangle of social studies categories,’ we have a problem,” Eissler said.

Critics fault the State Board of Education for considering nearly 200 last-hour amendments before taking a final vote last year.

“These standards and the way they were developed just don’t pass the common-sense test,” Geren said. “The law has a process laid out for how to write our state’s curriculum, and they thumbed their nose at it and wrote standards themselves..”

See here for more on the Fordham Institute criticism of the social studies curriculum. I’m glad to see this, and I hope they have a lot more company. The nutjob wing of the SBOE would feel a lot more constrained in what it could do if it were subject to more criticism and oversight from the Lege, especially from fellow Republicans. It’s a lot easier being crazy when no one is paying attention. It also doesn’t hurt for folks like Pitts to remind the SBOE that it’s the Lege that allocates money to buy the textbooks needed to teach these new standards, and putting that expenditure off for a little while would save a ton of money at a time when we need all the savings we can get. I don’t know how much effect this will have, but it’s the right thing to do and a very welcome development.

One more thing:

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, a leader of the board’s social conservatives who championed the new curriculum standards, said he doubted a majority of the 15-member board would be willing to reopen the process.

The board has already started the curriculum rewrite for math standards, with health education to follow.

You may now commence making jokes about their intent to require that the Biblical value of pi be taught in math classes.

Lowe has confirmation issues, too

John Bradley isn’t the only Rick Perry appointee who is having trouble getting confirmed by the Senate.

State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who chairs the Senate Nominations committee, says Gail Lowe has not been scheduled for a hearing as chairwoman of the State Board of Education because she lacks the votes for a confirmation on the floor.

Gov. Rick Perry nominated Lowe, who currently serves in the position, on Feb. 1. Democrats in the Senate have been unhappy with her performance — especially in light of a recent report that blasted the state’s social studies standards.

Deuell said that while he believes the Lampasas Republican’s nomination has the votes to get out of committee, she currently does not have the support of any Democrats — meaning she would not survive a vote of the full Senate.

[…]

In blocking Lowe, who, while a member of board’s social conservative bloc, is known for a balanced management style, Democrats run the risk of a more controversial member as her replacement.

I feel the same way about this as I did with Don McLeroy’s ultimately scuttled confirmation back in 2009. I have nothing good to say about Gail Lowe, but I have absolutely no illusions that her successor would be any better. In fact, I’d bet money that should Lowe fail to get confirmed, Perry will nominate David Bradley as the next Chair, which will not only ratchet the crazy factor back up to 11, it will also be a big, ironic middle finger aimed at every Democratic Senator. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should vote on this one – the game is rigged, and the choices all suck – but I do think everyone should give it a lot of thought.

The SBOE and charter schools

Some members of the State Board of Education want to get into the charter school business.

Representatives for Texas’ 460 independent charter schools asked the State Board of Education on Wednesday to tap into the state’s education trust fund and for the first time provide them classrooms and facilities for their students.

The charter school operators also expressed support for board member David Bradley’s proposal to take up to $100 million from the $22 billion Permanent School Fund and use it to purchase or build facilities that the board would lease to charter schools.

[…]

While several board members expressed interest in the facilities idea, others had questions, citing the large number of charter schools that have failed since being first authorized 15 years ago.

“Once the board awards a charter, we have no control over the school after that – and that causes me great concern,” said board member Bob Craig, R-Lubbock. “I just don’t see this as a good investment,”

He said 71 state licenses for charter schools have been revoked, removed or returned since the program began.

Board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, said the board would have the same concerns as banks and other financial institutions that have been reluctant to lend money to charter operators to build schools or remodel buildings.

A more pointed objection was raised by SBOE Chair Gail Lowe.

Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe , R-Lampasas, said she is a proponent of charter schools and would like to help them cover their facility costs.

But the assets of the fund, which was established by the state constitution in 1876 , have to be invested for the benefit of all Texas schoolchildren for generations to come. Given that mandate, Lowe said, she is not convinced this investment would be in the best interest of the fund, even if only a relatively small amount is dedicated to the program.

“Regardless of what percentage it is, it is still incumbent upon a fiduciary to determine what is in the best interest of the fund,” Lowe said.

The Trib and Abby Rapoport have more on this; board member Bob Craig also pointed out the risk of litigation if someone decides that Bradley’s proposal does not meet the mandate Lowe points out. This proposal by Bradley first surfaced last month, and so far I haven’t seen a good response to the concerns that member-elect Thomas Ratliff and State Rep. Scott Hochberg raised in that story:

Newly elected board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who will take over from former chair Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, in January, said the board has no business going into the rental business.

“If they want to do it, they better do it quick, because I don’t think the votes will be there on the board in January,” he says. “Charter school facilities are a legitimate issue. But it’s a problem for the state Legislature to solve. … If a charter school has a good business model, than it should be no problem getting a loan in the commercial space. And if not, why would we want to invest?”

[…]

On the House side, Hochberg says the alternative stretches the SBOE far out of the bounds of its authority over the public school fund. Common sense dictates that the best-possible investment mix to maximize Permanent School Fund revenues will change constantly, as the market changes. Real estate in general might be a great investment today and a terrible one a month from now. A board decision to lock itself into specific properties for the specific purpose of renting only to charters can’t possibly be the best business decision for all market environments — if it makes sense at all, Hochberg says.

“Let’s say you decide to invest a certain amount in real estate, and you buy a building and rent it to Wal-Mart — and then the market changes, so you decide to change investments and sell it. You can do that. But what if a charter school is in there?” Hochberg asks. “They’re not supposed to be in a specific business — they’re supposed to be investing in the long-term interest of the children of the state of Texas.”

It is interesting how Bradley, who is one of those “the government is the problem, the free market is the solution” conservatives wants to use the government to solve a problem with the free market, isn’t it? Things can look a little different when the free market isn’t being kind to something you like, I guess. Having said that, I don’t think Bradley’s plan is completely nuts. I think that if there were sufficient controls in place to ensure that good charter schools could thrive while bad ones could be quickly shut down, there’s an argument to be made for the state helping out with the facilities end of things. I think that’s a job better suited for the Lege, however. Having an answer for Ratliff and Hochberg would be nice, too.

In the end, the SBOE decided to go for it. After initially voting to adopt an asset allocation plan as a committee that did not include any charter school funds, the Board then went ahead and allocated some funds for this plan.

The measure passed 7-6 with two members absent: Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio. Agosto voted against the measure in committee yesterday and could have killed it today by voting the same way. Berlanga’s position on the issue is unknown, but she often votes against the conservative members who pushed the measure.

The board’s bloc of social conservatives usually consists of seven Republicans on the 15-member panel, including chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas. While Lowe voted against the plan, the bloc succeeded in pulling a Democratic vote from Rene Nunez, of El Paso. Other members voting for the plan included David Bradley, R-Beaumont — who spearheaded the idea — Don McLeroy, R-Bryan; Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio; Terri Leo, R-Spring; Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond; and Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands.

The allocation was contingent on a favorable opinion from the Attorney General and “express legislative authority”. I have a feeling the Lege is more likely to expressly yank their chain on this, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Until then, consider it one last parting gift from the McLeroy/Dunbar axis of ideology. Abby Rapoport has more.

White wants to “undo some of the damage” the SBOE has done to social studies

Lord knows, there’s a lot of it to undo. Bill White wants to start with changing the Chair.

Some Texans have called for a limited review to address some of the more controversial standards that will influence new history, government, geography and economics textbooks for 4.8 million public school children. Only the board chairman sets the agenda, and the governor chooses that leader — currently Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.

The board appointed academic experts, historians and teachers to recommend new social studies textbooks but then did a massive rewriting by considering some 400 amendments.

“Obviously, I would pick a chair who would try to undo some of the damage that is being done as quickly as we can,” White said. “We should have standards which reflect the views of professional educators and historians and respect the integrity of that process rather than injecting political ideology in the classroom — regardless where that ideology came in the political spectrum.”

Burka thinks White needs to go farther than that – he think White needs to call on the Lege to throw out what the SBOE has done and start the process over. Some legislators, like State Rep. Mike Villarreal, are talking about that possibility, while groups like the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the House Black Caucus have threatened to withhold funding for the new textbooks. I’ll say this much, the more you can tie Perry to the clown show, and the more you can put him in the position of having to defend or back away from what they’ve done, the better.

And as long as we’re pushing back on the crazy things the SBOE has done, let’s push back on this bit of sophistry:

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, a leader among the board’s socially conservative members, recalls that his side lost by a lopsided margin when the social studies standards were last rewritten in 1999.

“It’s over. Ten years ago we were not on the prevailing side. The liberals won and the conservatives lost. We didn’t hold press conferences and call for a reconsideration or appeal to the Legislature,” he said.

But those standards hardly caused a ripple 11 years ago. More than 40,000 people offered comments on this year’s proposal, and more than 1,200 historians from across the country expressed their objections. Many minority organizations also spoke out. Minority children now make up more than 66 percent of the public school enrollment, and the new curriculum standards were approved by the board’s 10 Republicans — all of whom are white. The board’s five Democrats, all minorities, voted against the document.

The difference between ten years ago and now is that nobody, not even Bradley, is claiming that the Board at that time replaced widely accepted facts with politically slanted nonsense. In fact, Bradley’s complaint is that his preferred set of politically slanted nonsense didn’t get any traction in 1999, and so now that there are enough Board members who want to see that particular worldview pushed on Texas’ students, they’re doing it. The truth isn’t what matters, because the majority on the Board gets to decide what the truth is.

Finally, note that while the SBOE is usually described as being evenly divided between the wingnuts and the moderates, all three supposed Republican moderates voted with the wingnuts in the end. Sounding like a moderate means nothing if you don’t vote like one. When there’s a choice between someone who tries to sound like a moderate and someone who genuinely is one, don’t be fooled by soothing words. Actions count for much more.

“We went out and won some elections”

I know people who read this blog understand the importance of voting in every election, but I think it’s good to be reminded from time to time. So with that, this Statesman article about the current state of the SBOE and how they managed to do so much damage to the public school curriculum, sums it all up nicely.

The seeds of the current discord at the State Board of Education were sown in 1997 when the conservative minority was shut out of the final debate over new curriculum standards.

Unlike today’s curriculum critics, the conservatives and their allies didn’t march in protest or hold news conferences to disparage the majority, said David Bradley , R-Beaumont, a board member since 1996 .

“We just went out and won some elections,” Bradley said.

Any questions?

Electronic textbook update

Last year, the Lege passed a law that allowed school districts to provide electronic textbooks instead of the traditional kind as a way to save money. The bidding process to provide these texts is now going on.

With Texas budgeted to spend $812 million on textbooks in 2010, state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, hopes schools give serious consideration to the non-traditional options that will become available for purchase starting next month.

“This is such a rare chance in a legislative career to find something we can do better and faster and actually cheaper,” Hochberg said.

Schools are required to provide a classroom set of instructional materials, and were previously limited to state-approved textbooks, almost all of which are traditional books. The state set a maximum price for the books, and, most vendors’ bids came within a few pennies of the maximum.

Because of that, few school districts were able to capitalize on a textbook credit that allows them to keep half of any savings they achieve by not spending the maximum allotment. In the last two years, districts earned only $172,000 in credits.

The expanded electronic options should give districts more chance to leverage the credit, Hochberg said.

Hard to say how much savings there might be, but given how strapped for cash school districts are these days, almost anything reasonable is worth a try. The potential here is pretty high. We’ll see how it goes. And there’s another potential benefit:

While the new delivery mode could save Texas millions of dollars, some leaders worry that it circumvents the public input provided by the textbook adoption process. Such a process could reduce the sort of debate that raged earlier this month as the State Board of Education considered setting the standards for a new social studies curriculum.

Critics also worry that students won’t all have the same access to electronic texts.

“This is a move in the wrong direction,” said David Bradley, a Republican State Board of Education member from Beaumont. “For all the best intentions of the Legislature, there was a defect in the thinking: There’s no accountability to the public.”

I’d call circumventing the clown show process run by the SBOE a feature, not a bug. Also, as electronic textbooks are adopted nationwide, the influence of Texas and crazies like Bradley will be diminished, since it’s much cheaper and easier to edit out whatever stupidity they insist on putting in than it would be for printed texts. All in all, I’m not seeing much downside here.

Textbook ideology

Who cares about Cesar Chavez and Henry Cisneros when our students could be learning about Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh?

The State Board of Education has appointed “review committees” made up largely of active and retired school teachers to draft new social studies curriculum standards as well as six “expert reviewers” to help shape the final document.

The standards, which the board will decide next spring, will influence new history, civics and geography textbooks.

The first draft for proposed standards in United States History Studies Since Reconstruction says students should be expected “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.”

I actually wouldn’t mind ol’ Newtie being in the textbooks, as long the whole truth gets told. Of course, some of that truth would likely be considered too, um, sexually inappropriate for school children. Maybe what we need is a nice long public debate about it first. You can’t be too sure about these things.

Whether students will also be exposed to liberal examples from the ebb and flow of American politics is hard to predict. Conservatives form the largest bloc on the 15-member State Board of Education, whose partisan makeup is 10 Republicans and five Democrats.

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, one of the conservative leaders, figures the current draft will pass a preliminary vote along party lines “once the napalm and smoke clear the room.”

But not all conservative board members share that view.

“It is hard to believe that a majority of the writing team would approve of such wording,” said Terri Leo, R-Spring. “It’s not even a representative selection of the conservative movement, and it is inappropriate.”

Aside to Gail Lowe, the new chair of the SBOE: This is the sort of thing Paul Burka had in mind when he suggested you try to keep David Bradley under control. The alternative is for the “Daily Show” to assign a permanent correspondent to Austin to cover this stuff. Your choice.

Dunbar in line to chair SBOE

The crazy never stops.

Critics who engineered the recent ouster of State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, in part because of his strong religious beliefs, could end up with someone even more outspoken in her faith.

Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, who advocated more Christianity in the public square last year with the publication of her book, One Nation Under God, is among those that Gov. Rick Perry is considering to lead the State Board of Education, some of her colleagues say.

Critics are gasping and allies are cheering over speculation that Dunbar, a lawyer, could win a promotion to the leadership spot.

“It would certainly cause angst among the same members of the pagan left that rejected Don McLeroy because he was a man of faith,” said David Bradley, R-Beaumont, one of the seven socially conservative members on the 15-person board.

Perry’s office declined to comment until “a final decision is made.”

No one can say we didn’t see this coming. It’s always about Rick Perry’s primary campaign, and board member Bradley’s comment sums up what the most important issue for the conservative movement is these days: Pissing off liberals. Who cares about anything else if it makes the “pagan left” unhappy? Well, some of us think that elevating Dunbar in this fashion will ultimately make it easier to beat her at the ballot box next year. So go right ahead, I say. Keep reminding everyone what a freak show the SBOE is, and how out of the mainstream the Republican Party that enables it is. We’ll be happy to have that conversation with the voters next year. Vince, EoW, and the Texas Freedom Network have more.

Clipping the SBOE

Patricia Kilday Hart has the quote of the day.

The fallout from the State Board of Education’s debate over the teaching of evolution continued this morning in the Senate Education Committee, which held a spirited discussion on Sen. Kel Seliger’s SB 2275 transferring authority for textbook adoption from the State Board of Education to the state’s Education Commissioner.

How spirited? Sen. Kip Averitt, one of the most soft-spoken members of the Senate, was moved to observe that partisan discord has so infected the State Board that its Democrats believe “Republicans want to impose their religious beliefs” on public school students while its Republicans believe “Democrats want to teach our children how to masturbate.”

That woke up the audience members, some no doubt wondering how such a course might boost their kid’s GPA.

Finally, a scholastic category in which we’d have hope of not being Number 50 in the nation. And just imagine what the standardized tests would be like. TFN Insider, which thinks Sen. Seliger’s bill is a good idea, and the Observer have more on the debate and on Sen. Averitt’s remarks.

Quote of the day runnerup goes to the Wall Street Journal for their article on the SBOE’s shenanigans.

“At this point, a lot of us are questioning…whether the state Board of Education serves a purpose anymore,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat.

Most state boards of education oversee curricula and assessment tests, but responsibilities for textbooks and school funding vary from state to state.

Board members, who aren’t paid, object to most legislative meddling.

“As crazy as the Texas Board of Education is, there are just as many crazies, percentage-wise, in the state Legislature,” said board member Pat Hardy. Another member, Cynthia Dunbar, said the board’s fierce debates should be seen as a sign that all views are well represented.

I think it’s incumbent on all of us to figure out a way to compare the levels of craziness between the two bodies. Maybe we can get Nate Silver to do some kind of regression analysis on the question. And I must say, regardless of the outcome of that, Cynthia Dunbar does an excellent job of making sure that the crazy constituency is well-represented; hell, between her, Don McLeroy, David Bradley, and some others, that’s easily the best-represented group in the state. Which, naturally, brings us back to the point of Sen. Seliger’s bill. Here’s hoping it makes it through.