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Donna Bahorich

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.

The Trump effect on the SBOE

The Trib covers some familiar ground.

Rebecca Bell-Metereau

Rebecca Bell-Metereau

At least one SBOE race is “very much in play,” said Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones. He’s referring to District 5, where Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau is attempting to unseat incumbent Republican Ken Mercer for the third time. The district reaches from Austin to San Antonio, extending northwest to cover several Hill County counties such as Llano and Kerr.

While Mercer — a fixture of the board’s far-right faction — is still the favorite to win, Jones noted the district is now “pink, not red” after the latest round of redistricting. With Trump also headlining the ticket, “the race stands to be the most tightly contested SBOE general election contest in more than a dozen years,” Jones wrote in an email.

Several recent polls show Trump is statistically tied with Democrat Hillary Clinton in GOP-friendly Texas.

Bell-Metereau, 66, a Texas State University English professor and former Fulbright scholar, notes that Mercer’s margin of victory has gotten smaller each time she’s run against him. In 2012, with Green and Libertarian party candidates on the ticket, Mercer, 61, an IT project manager and former state representative from San Antonio, won re-election with 51 percent of the vote. This year, there are only three candidates on the ticket, including Libertarian Ricardo Perkins, providing even more hope to Bell-Metereau.

“People are starting to look at the Republican brand with a little more skepticism,” she said. “I can’t help but see it as helping me.”

[…]

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter

Jones said District 10, where Democrat Judy Jennings is challenging incumbent Republican Tom Maynard of Georgetown — also for the third time — is in play, too, although to a lesser extent. The district is wedged between Austin and Houston.

“Maynard remains a very heavy favorite to win in a district where Republicans enjoy a 10-point cushion even in the worst of times (pre-Trump worst of times, at least),” he said. “At this point, the best Democrat Judy Jennings can likely hope for is to keep Maynard’s margin of victory in the single digits.”

Maynard, 52, is one of the more moderate Republican education board members. The former school board member now heads the Texas FFA Association, a youth group focused on agriculture. Jennings, 62, formerly worked in the accountability division at the Texas Education Agency and now oversees assessment at Resources for Learning, an education consultancy.

Ten of the 15 board members are Republicans. With Trump at the top of the ticket, the margin of victory for incumbent Republicans in other races — SBOE and otherwise — may also be slimmer, Jones said.

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning organization that closely monitors the education board, agreed.

“SBOE districts are so gerrymandered that general elections often aren’t competitive, but I think it’s true that the Trump disaster has at least the potential to shake things up in a lot of races up and down the ballot,” he wrote in an email, adding that “it probably helps challengers that some state board members sound so much like Trump.”

Dr. Dakota Carter, the Democrat trying to unseat Republican board chairwoman Donna Bahorich, said “I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised Nov. 8.” Libertarian Whitney Bilyeu and Laura Palmer, a Green Party candidate, also are in the race.

“Unfortunately, what happens is these school board positions don’t get a lot of attention and usually go the way that several of the more well-known races go,” Carter said. “And so I think Donna has a real shot of this being her only term.”

I’ve discussed these three very races before. I’d love to see Mercer lose; he won in 2012 by less than ten points in a year when Mitt Romney was carrying Texas by 16, so you have to think that race will at least be closer this time. As with everything else, the question is how much of this is due to Republicans not voting for Trump but otherwise pushing the R button, how much is due to Rs not turning out, and how much is due to higher Democratic participation. If there’s enough of the latter two, Mercer and maybe one or both of the other two could be in trouble. We’ll know soon enough.

Chron overview of SBOE races

There are a few races of interest, though the usual bet is that nothing unusual will happen.

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter, a Democrat and underdog in District 6, said he got “fired up” to run for the board because he is tired of members manipulating the state’s curriculum to put it “more in line with politics rather than quality education for our kids.” To upend the direction of the board, he wants to unseat Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, a conservative Republican who he contends lacks understanding of what it is like to teach or send children to public schools.

“I think who needs to be on the board are actual educators or parents with kids in public schools,” said Carter, who once was a substitute teacher and is pursuing a doctorate in education. “It’s strange to me why we would put so much power in somebody who honestly doesn’t have any experience of what happens in a public classroom, what teachers go through, what families go through in the public system.”

The Houston Federation of Teachers union typically would jump at the chance to try to unseat someone like Bahorich, who was a former staffer to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, but has decided to sit this contest out, said Zeph Capo, president of Local 2415. Bahorich reaches across the aisle and regularly asks for the union’s opinion, he said.

“It’s very difficult to take a position against somebody who actually is working with you at the table and has done so long before anybody even considered running against them,” Capo said. “She’s willing to listen, she’s actually come to the table and she actually hasn’t been afraid to be seen with us.”

Last year, she appointed a Democrat to a key committee to study student testing and accountability, a move that signaled an easing grip on board partisanship.

“In this polarized society, that’s one of our problems, that we stay in our corners and we don’t talk to each other enough to work on things together,” said Bahorich, whose goals include focusing on college and career-ready courses and supporting successful charter schools. “There are some things we’re just going to have opposite. It’s better to have dialogue and conversation and try to work on things that you can agree on and move forward on.”

Not only does she face the race with the cachet of board chair, but the district largely is Republican, leaving an uphill battle for Carter, who would be both the youngest and first openly gay member to serve on the board if elected.

In Central Texas between Austin and San Antonio, conservative Republican Ken Mercer of San Antonio faces a challenge for the District 5 seat from Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau, an English professor at Texas State University.

The district is largely Republican and has sent Mercer to serve on the board in every election for the last decade. He is one of its most conservative members, is a defender of creationism, doubtful of climate change and a steadfast believer that the division between church and state is not a constitutional principle.

This will be Bell-Metereau’s third run at Mercer, who she describes as one of the board’s “most extreme members.” Name recognition has helped her shrink the voter gap between them, but she has remained far from clinching a win. Debate on a controversial Mexican-American history textbook critics described as offensive and racist could have a bearing on the race should Latino voters, largely in San Antonio, mobilize against him.

West of Houston, Florence Republican Tom Maynard will try to defend his District 10 seat against Judy Jennings, an Austin Democrat he beat by double digits in 2012. Jennings, who interprets student assessment data at Austin-based Resources for Learning LLC, argues the board micromanages the state curriculum and Republican members of the board are too afraid of right-wing groups to stand up to bad decisions. Maynard, considered a swing Republican on the board, is a former agriculture teacher and now executive director of the Texas FFA Association, also known as Future Farmers of America. He lists his top priority as demanding accountability and supporting local control.

The Chron endorsed Carter and Maynard but offered no opinion on District 5, which is centered in Bexar County. I’ve noted before that all three of these districts are susceptible, to varying degrees, of becoming competitive if the Presidential race is closer than expected. Here are the Presidential numbers from 2012 and the actual race results for your reference:


Dist    Romney     Obama    Romney%  Obama%
===========================================
05     375,942   294,887      54.7%   42.9%
06     332,415   215,839      59.7%   38.8%
10     331,022   235,591      57.0%   40.5%


Member, State Board of Education, District 5

Ken Mercer              REP  338,705  51.30%
Rebecca Bell-Metereau   DEM  281,445  42.63%
Mark Loewe              LIB   28,407   4.30%
Irene Meyer Scharf      GRN   11,717   1.77%


Member, State Board of Education, District 6

Donna Bahorich          REP  304,702  57.12%
Traci Jensen            DEM  208,198  39.03%
Gene Clark              LIB   15,189   2.85%
G C Molison             GRN    5,328   1.00%


Member, State Board of Education, District 10

Tom Maynard             REP  313,025  56.60%
Judy Jennings           DEM  239,985  43.40%

In a sufficiently bad year for Republicans, Mercer could be in danger. It would need to be a really bad year for Bahorich or Maynard to sweat. The former remains a possibility, the latter probably needs the polls to be tied to be in play. Mercer is the worst of the three, so that’s good news. Let’s wait and see what the October poll numbers look like, but do keep these races in mind if those numbers continue to be encouraging.

Endorsement watch: SBOE

The Chron makes endorsements in two SBOE races.

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter

District 6

When she was first appointed as head of the State Board of Education in 2015, Donna Bahorich was condemned as an anti-education advocate of homeschooling who would drag the board back to its embarrassing days of fractious infighting. But Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, has failed to transform into the forewarned partisan. Instead, the former Dan Patrick campaign manager has used statewide surveys to gauge parents, business leaders and educators on the issues facing the SBOE.

However, given the issues of standardized testing and age-appropriate curricula that currently vex the SBOE, we encourage voters to back her Democratic challenger, R. Dakota Carter, who has a unique expertise in these fields.

District 10

Our choice for this sprawling central district, which includes the cities of Georgetown, Bastrop and Sealy, is incumbent Tom Maynard.

When he first ran for the seat in 2012, some flags went up about Maynard’s allegiance to hard-right ideology. However, by and large during his term, Maynard has functioned less as an ideologue and more as a public servant who has the best interests of Texas’ children at heart.

The way they wrote these, they could just as easily have swapped which incumbents and challengers they endorsed. Bahorich, who is my SBOE member, has apparently been more of a work-together type than an ideologue, and it has at least blunted the opposition if not earned her a bit of support. See Zeph Capo’s comments in this Chron overview of the SBOE races for the evidence. Bahorich is a strong favorite to win in her 60-40 district – if anyone should be worried about the close poll numbers and surge in voter registration in Texas, it’s Tom Maynard in District 10.

For his part, Dakota Carter has been a very active campaigner and gotten a lot of Dems on board with him. He’s got an uphill battle, but he’s done all he can to make a contest of it. I will be very interested to see what the precinct results look like in this one when it’s all over.

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.

Runoff watch: Leftovers

Three last races that didn’t fit into any other categories.

SBOE District 6 – Democratic

Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter, the two candidates that actually campaigned for this office in this three-way race, finished one and two in the voting in March. Carter collected all of the endorsements that I tracked, which may help him make up the ground he needs in the runoff. As I’ve noted, this is going to be a very low turnout affair, but SBOE districts are huge and not at all conducive to shoe leather and door knocking, so if there’s ever a time for endorsements to make a difference, this ought to be it. Jenkins had a 7500 vote lead in Round One, so it would need to make a big difference. They’re both good, qualified candidates and I’d love to be more excited about this race, but the stark fact remains that Donna Bahorich won by a 100,000-vote margin in 2012. It’s going to take one hell of a Trump effect to make a difference here.

CD18 – Republican

You may be surprised to hear that four people ran in the Republican primary in CD18 for the right to get creamed by Sheila Jackson Lee in November. Lori Bartley and Reggie Gonzales were the top two vote-getters in that race. I’ve seen a couple of Bartley signs around my neighborhood, posted in random places. Here’s a little factoid to consider: Of the 23,937 votes cast in the four-candidate Republican primary in CD18, 7,041 (29.41%) skipped this race. Of the 54,857 votes cast in the Democratic primary in CD18, for which SJL was unopposed, 8,744 (15.94%) bypassed this race. Point being, even Republican primary voters aren’t exactly invested in this race. In a district where holding SJL to under 70% would be notable, that’s easy enough to understand.

County chair – Republican

Call me crazy, but I still think this is a result that maybe ought to pique the interest of a Chron reporter. I mean, it’s not a Robert Morrow situation, but surely it’s interesting that four years after knocking off Jared Woodfill in a nasty race, Paul Simpson is on the verge of being ousted in his first re-election attempt. Maybe there’s a story there? Some good quotes to be had from various insiders and wannabees? I’m just saying. You can read Big Jolly’s pre-election report on the race for one perspective. This is one race where I’d actually like to know what the usual gang of quotable types thinks. Can someone at the Chron please make this happen? Thanks.

Trib overview of SBOE races

As always, there’s a lot of action in these low profile races.

Among the contenders in the races to replace Republican Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant and Democrat Martha Dominguez of El Paso is a 68-year-old East Texas retiree who has said that President Obama used to be a prostitute and a 41-year-old self-described “MeXicana Empowerment Specialist” who says the board’s Democrats have sat silent for far too long.

Both Republican Mary Lou Bruner, of Mineola, and Democrat Georgina Cecilia Perez, of El Paso, taught in public schools for years. That’s one of the few things they have in common, along with a clear passion for their respective causes. Observers and political scientists say both women have emerged as strong contenders in their separate races and could easily claim victory in the March 1 primary, an outcome that could mean the return of a more quarrelsome board.

DISTRICT 9

Bruner, who has won endorsements from influential movement conservatives like Cathie Adams and JoAnn Fleming, is one of three Republicans vying for the nomination to replace Ratliff in representing District 9, a 31-county swath that spans the northeast quadrant of the state.

But it’s Bruner’s voluminous Facebook posts, not her endorsements, that have generated the most buzz in the race. A majority of them echo the kind of anti-Muslim, anti-gay or anti-science opinions commonly spouted by members at education board meetings of yore, but observers — and detractors — say she takes it to a whole other level.

“Obama has a soft spot for homosexuals because of the years he spent as a male prostitute in his twenties,” Bruner said last October in a now-deleted post on the wall of her personal Facebook page, where she also has posted campaign materials and solicited votes.

Bruner, who worked for 36 years in East Texas schools as a teacher, counselor and educational diagnostician, said she stands by all her posts but deletes the ones she comes to learn are inaccurate and also publicly apologizes.

“I’m not ashamed of anything that I have ever said,” Bruner said, noting she plans to bring to same zeal to the state board, speaking her mind even if she’s outvoted. “If I’m on the State Board of Education, I’m going to speak up for the things that I believe because I have a First Amendment right.”

The Tribune could not, however, locate a public apology for that post on Obama, which Bruner has since deleted from her Facebook page. Asked specifically about the post and whether she still believes the president used to be a gay prostitute, Bruner said: “You are obviously a hostile and biased reporter pretending to be a friendly reporter to gain my confidence. The interview is over.”

[…]

DISTRICT 1

Much like Bruner, Perez, a 41-year-old mother of four, also vows to bring “a very strong voice” to Austin. The former 8th grade language arts teacher contends the board’s five Democrats are “far too silent most of the time” — often sidelined as the board’s moderate and social conservatives dominate the debate.

Perez, who retired from teaching a year ago and now is seeking a doctorate in education at the University of Texas at El Paso, targets the education panels’ far-right Republicans prominently on her website.

“The SBOE is an important entity that has been hijacked by extremists that are more concerned with advancing an ultra-conservative agenda and rewriting textbooks than they have been overseeing the education of Texas youth,” reads a quote on the homepage.

But Perez, who has won endorsements from fellow El Paso Democrats Sen. José Rodriguez and Rep. Mary González, also dismisses any concerns that she might not play well with others. She points to her work last year crafting a proclamation that the education board ended up approving in a 12-2 vote supporting the implementation of ethnic studies courses.

“It was my presentation and my research and my testimony that brought them on board with how this closes the achievement gap,” Perez said. “In the past, the SBOE has been known for, perhaps, uncivil discourse, but that has not been my experience up there.”

Bruner of course has drawn national attention for her repugnant statements; as is usually the case, the Texas Freedom Network is your best source of information for this brand of crazy. She’s very much the face of the Texas Republican Party these days. She has a sane, Ratliff-esque opponent in Keven Ellis, and I suppose the question is whether the people that elected Don McLeroy or the people that ousted him in favor of Thomas Ratliff will show up for that race. Lord knows, the state GOP deserves her, but the schoolchildren of Texas do not.

As for Georgina Perez, it’s lazy and irresponsible of the Trib to draw a parallel between her and Bruner, even of the rest of their writing makes it clear that outside of a willingness to mix it up the two are completely different. One of these two will be a laughingstock, and it ain’t Georgina Perez. One of her opponents is a recipient of money from the astroturf group Texans for Education Reform, so I’ll be rooting for Ms. Perez on March 1.

And there’s also our local race:

DISTRICT 6

[…]

Two of the Democrats seeking the District 6 nomination — Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter — criticized [incumbent Donna] Bahorich, as well as each other, for lack of experience and predicted their own passionate campaigning will push them to victory.

Carter, 28, is a child and adolescent psychiatry resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston who said he is “the only person running in the primary or the general election who understands how kids develop, at what ages they should be learning different subjects.”

The Panhandle native expects to receive his doctorate in education next year from the University of Houston, with a focus on curriculum instruction and leadership.

Jenkins, 32, also has a doctorate in education but says her experience teaching bilingual 4th grade in the Houston area for two years may be more important to voters.

“Being well educated doesn’t make someone an educator,” said Jenkins, who now is the manager of community-based initiatives at Advantage Testing of Houston.

“I hope that people will really recognize that and put these decisions in the hands of experienced educators.”

I interviewed Dakota Carter, and apparently got door-knocked by Jasmine Jenkins, but wasn’t home for it. Either one would be fine by me (there’s a third candidate who’s been invisible so far), but Bahorich got 57.1% in 2012, which was enough to win by over 100,000 votes. I’ll be happy if we can know that down a point or two – for sure, if we do, we’ve probably done pretty well countywide, too.

Maybe Ratliff won’t step down from the SBOE after all

Just when he thought he was out, they (might) pull him back in.

Thomas Ratliff

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed a social conservative and former staffer for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to chair the Texas State Board of Education on Thursday.

Donna Bahorich will lead the 15-member board, whose duties include setting curriculum standards and approving the textbooks used by the state’s more than five million schoolchildren.

Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, has served on the board since January 2013. She sat on the Committee on School Initiatives, which oversees issues related to charter schools, the Board for Educator Certification rules and the appointment of school board members for districts located on military bases. She is also a member of the board’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education.

As chairwoman, Bahorich will set the agenda for the state education board’s meetings, which occur five to six times a year.

Bahorich, who usually votes with the board’s social conservative bloc, has close ties to Patrick. She was his campaign manager during his first run for the state senate seat in 2006. After that, she served on Patrick’s staff in varying roles including district director, campaign treasurer and communications director.

Board member Thomas Ratliff, a governmental relations consultant and lobbyist from Mount Pleasant, said he was disappointed to hear of Bahorich’s appointment. Ratliff said he believes she does not have enough experience with public schools to qualify her for the job.

“She’s a nice lady and a hard worker and I think her heart’s in the right place,” Ratliff said. “I just think it ought to be a fundamental requirement on the state board for someone to have had kids in public school.”

Ratliff said he’s now rethinking his decision to leave the board when his current term expires in 2017.

“That’s no longer a guarantee that my days on the board are done,” he said. “I may have more work to do.”

See here for the background on Ratliff. Whether he decides to run for re-election to the SBOE or takes a crack at Kevin Eltife’s Senate seat, either would be fine by me. I hope this is for real and not just a tease.

As for Bahorich, she’s hardly the person I’d want chairing the SBOE, but the bar for “could be worse” with this group is pretty damn low. Not being a McLeroy-esque catastrophe counts as a job well done. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

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.

Overview of SBOE6

The Memorial Examiner takes a look at the race in SBOE6 between Republican Donna Bahorich and Democrat Traci Jensen.

Bahorich is former district director for state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-District 7) and says her experience with the state legislative process adds to her qualifications for the post. A former manager at Mountain Bell, she home-schooled her sons until they reached high school and founded the non-profit Home Ed Plus to provide supplemental classes for other home school families.

Bahorich said she is a collaborator who will bring all groups involved with education together to help set policies for the state.

“About half on the board have been teachers. What I bring to the board, in addition to my work with home schooling, is my experience on the whole picture, through legislative process. I have a global view of how we need to be going about our work that’s been missing from the board. My opponent is focused on the classroom, she doesn’t know legislative process,” Bahorich said.

Traci Jensen

Jensen was inspired to run for the SBOE seat following its controversial decisions involving the state social studies curriculum in 2010. A former classroom teacher in Aldine ISD, Jensen has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction. As a visiting professor at University of Houston until last year, she worked with educators across the city, state, the nation, and internationally concerning the improvement of learning and developing curriculum.

Jensen wants to end the culture wars that politicize subject matter. She advocates more creative instruction choices for teachers.

“My concern is making sure we are public education advocates, not political advocates. The state board should be advising legistors and advocating for parents and teachers,” Jensen said. “She (Bahorich) has a completely political background working for Dan Patrick for years, and she’s not worked in classorooms or in the schools.”

Might be nice if someone would ask Bahorich what she thinks about vouchers, since her former boss plans to push for them next year. I mean, if we’re going to divert public funds to private schools, does that mean that the private schools need to follow the curriculum set by the SBOE? I’m sure there are other questions pertaining to this as well.

On a side note, this is the first truly contested election in SBOE6 in at least 20 years. Terri Leo had a Libertarian opponent in 2008, but before that every Republican running in SBOE6 going back to 1992 – Jack Christie in ’92 and ’94. Chase Untermeyer in ’98, and Leo in ’02 and ’04 – were unopposed. That’s as far back as the SOS archives go – if you know the history from before that, leave a comment and let us know. Campos has more.

Texas Freedom Network’s guide to the SBOE elections

The Texas Freedom Network has put out a useful little voter’s guide to the 2012 State Board of Education elections, which covers a range of topics from creationism and climate change to bullying and SBOE procedures. You might look at the answers that the candidates who responded submitted and think “Hey, cool, everyone is basically sane and rational”, but look again. Only one Republican incumbent (Thomas Ratliff) and one Republican running for an open seat (Laurie Turner, running for the seat currently held by Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga), submitted answers. Seven Republican incumbents, and three Republican candidates for Republican-held open seats, did not. Donna Bahorich, who is running for Terri Leo’s seat in SBOE6 and who is opposed by Traci Jensen, did not submit answers. Bahorich doesn’t much like talking to audiences that don’t already agree with her so no surprise here. Of course, for a number of these issues we already know where the Republican incumbents stand as their records are quite clear and they’re generally not shy about saying what they believe, but you wouldn’t know it from this. Anyway, take a look and see if your SBOE candidates gave answers. If they didn’t, you probably have a pretty good idea why not.

Traci Jensen’s challenge

I got the following from the Traci Jensen campaign the other day:

Traci Jensen

This past Wednesday morning, Traci and her Republican opponent Donna Bahorich participated in the Greater Houston Partnership’s “Meet the Candidates: State Board of Education” forum. This was the first time Traci and Bahorich had ever met. Three candidates running in two other area SBOE districts also participated.

Each candidate was given five minutes to introduce themselves followed by Q&A with GHP members. Questions asked covered technology, dropouts, priorities, and communicating with constituent groups and the business community.

Traci was articulate, knowledgeable, factual, and to the point. Her opponent responded in vague generalities and in all honesty provided tepid responses. Now this wasn’t a Texas Freedom Network (TFN) crowd so GHP members were probably not aware of some of her past pronouncements like – “will only vote for health textbooks that uphold traditional definitions of marriage and family and that are abstinence-based” – that you can find on her website.

On a couple of occasions during the forum, Traci was critical of the SBOE’s dismantling of the social studies curriculum in 2010 and even cited specific instances. Bahorich was steadfastly silent.

After the meeting, a GHP member approached both Traci and Bahorich and asked how they intended to be advocates for her children and for public education if elected. Traci said she would and used as an example calling for the legislature to fully fund public education. Bahorich went the Tea Party route and said the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) was going to force the state to put more money into Health and Human Services and divert funds from public education. Traci countered Bahorich and said the legislature has to find the political will to do what is right and respond to the growing student population. Bahorich was taken aback.

We have heard from a few sources within the more sensible Republican Party leadership faction that they would have preferred a more knowledgeable and capable candidate for SBOE, District 6 – a candidate that isn’t driven by Tea Party ideology. They admit that the Tea Party influence within Harris County Republican Party basically forced Bahorich down their throats. After all, she is State Sen. Dan Patrick’s former district director.

These more sensible leaders can’t come out and publicly endorse Traci because of fear or retribution. However, privately they are telling their friends and associates to consider Traci’s candidacy. Some Republican business execs have expressed to Traci concern on how Bahorich – who has home schooled her kids and owns a home schooling business – could be qualified to serve on the SBOE. They have privately urged Traci on.

Bahorich would prefer not to promote her Tea Party agenda before groups like the GHP. She would also like to get through the next two months without having to explain to voters her positions.

Traci got into this race to win. During the Democratic Primary she found the resources to put together a campaign and win without a runoff against two other candidates. She is committed to finding the resources to wage an effective race between now and November 6 and she would like you to make a commitment.

Our strategy is pretty simple! If we let voters who care about our schools compare Traci’s 20 years of public education experience with Bahorich’s Tea Party driven agenda, we win. Republican and Independent voters who care about our state’s public education system do not want the Tea Party ideologues signing off on curriculum and standards for our classrooms. It is pretty simple.

State Senator John Whitmire, City Council Member James Rodriguez, former HISD Trustee Paula Arnold, the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Action Fund, Inc., and others believe we can win and are co-hosting a fundraising reception for Traci on Wednesday, September 19. Go to www.jensen4stateboard.com if you can attend.

On a closing note, this is the first time in my memory that we have had a contested partisan SBOE race in the Houston area. This race is different from most partisan races because when it comes to what is taught in the classrooms or printed in our textbooks, most voters want their kids taught established science and uncensored history. The stakes are high and the issues are on our side. These voters will respond to our message if we make the effort.

There’s no question that Jensen is a strong, well-qualified candidate. There’s no question that her opponent is a wacko ideologue who will make the SBOE a worse place than it already is. Unfortunately, there’s also no question that this district was drawn to elect a Republican. To have a shot at winning, Jensen is going to need to convince a fair number of Republicans to vote for her instead. How many? Well, take a look at the 2008 numbers for the redrawn district. Assuming roughly the same conditions, Democratic candidates face a gap of about 100,000 votes, meaning that some 50,000 Republicans need to be flipped. That’s a tall order. Now, it’s entirely possible that the district has moved in a Democratic direction since 2008 – the comparable gap for a Democrat in the 2004 election would have been closer to 150,000 votes – but there’s still going to be a gap. This is the challenge Jensen faces.

I don’t want to be a buzzkill. I do believe this race can be won, and I think it’s vitally important to work on it. Boosting turnout in this growing and dynamic area is a key component in addition to winning converts. This is an important race, and Traci Jensen deserves your support in it.

Martha and Marisa

Martha Dominguez, the accidental SBOE nominee from El Paso who had been telling people she wanted to drop out of the race before the primary, has decided to stay on the ballot for November, according to the Lion Star blog. He’s not exactly thrilled about it, and I can hardly blame him. I repeat my earlier advice to Dominguez: Run, win, and resign so that someone who actually wants the job can have it.

As for Marisa Perez, no news and no updates on her Facebook page. An updated version of that San Antonio Current article says that a week after their call to her for a comment, she still has not called them back. Awesome.

Meanwhile, in a district that has a worthy candidate, Traci Jensen sent out the following press release earlier this week:

Traci Jensen

Traci Jensen, Democratic nominee for the State Board of Education, District 6, today called upon the Houston Chronicle, Texas PTA, League of Women Voters – Houston, Greater Houston Partnership, and American Association of University Women – Texas, to facilitate a series of debates between Jensen and her Republican opponent Donna Bahorich. In a letter to the five organizations Jensen said “the State Board of Education which oversees the creation of curriculum for Texas public schools is arguably the most important political entity in Texas. However, Texans know very little about the SBOE or its members. Ms. Bahorich and I have major policy and philosophical differences that should be debated throughout SBOE District 6.”

“There are 15 State Board of Education Districts with each representing over 1.6 million people. If SBOE, District 6, were a Texas municipality, we would be the second largest city in the state. SBOE District 6 includes parts, most, or some of ten ISDs. Although we fully intend to conduct a voter intensive campaign, we believe a series of debates will go a long way toward educating the voters on this important position,” added Jensen.

“In 2010, when the State Board of Education dismantled the social studies curriculum, many of our state’s most respected business and civic leadership expressed concern and outrage at the SBOE’s decisions. I believe that it is now all of our responsibility to properly vet the candidates that are running for the SBOE,” continued Jensen.

Traci Jensen has been an educator in the Houston Area for 20 years. Her focus has been to improve public education for all students. She has worked in Aldine ISD as a classroom teacher. She also has experience in Alief, Aldine, Spring Branch, Houston, Katy, and Cy-Fair schools working with future educators. Jensen has a Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s in Social Studies Education, and an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.

A copy of the letter sent to the League of Women Voters – Houston follows. Similar letters were sent to the other four organizations.

I’ve put the letter beneath the fold. Jensen is an underdog in a district that was drawn to elect a Republican, but given how big SBOE districts are and how little attention they get the least we voters deserve is the opportunity to hear the favored Republican speak to a general audience about the issues she would face. We’ll see what kind of response she gets.

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