Whether people are talking about inclusion and diversity in the classroom, what books should be allowed in school libraries, or so-called Critical Race Theory, education is a hot political topic this election season.
Given that, one might assume voters were keeping an especially-close eye on the 15 State Board of Education races across Texas. But that’s usually not the case.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people do not pay attention to the state board of education, but they really should,” said former Dallas ISD board member Ron Price. “The only time you hear about the state board is when they want to change some language in our history books or science.”
Despite State Board of Education members’ power and influence over public education across Texas, voter turnout is typically low — especially in the primaries.
That’s something Price thinks would change if more people had a better understanding of the board’s role.
“I would probably say about 95 to 98 percent of all Texans — not just Texas but people in most states —don’t know what their state Board of Education does. The state board is so critical,” added Price, who is now on the Board of Regents of Texas Southern University.
So what do State Board of Education members even do? Here’s what The Texas Education Agency says:
The State Board of Education (SBOE) sets policies and standards for Texas public schools. The primary responsibilities of the SBOE include:
- Setting curriculum standards
- Reviewing and adopting instructional materials
- Establishing graduation requirements
- Overseeing the Texas Permanent School Fund
- Appointing board members to military reservation and special school districts
- Providing final review of rules proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification
- Reviewing the commissioner’s proposed award of new charter schools, with authority to veto a recommended applicant.
- Terms last four years, each district averages 1.8 million Texans, and the office is partisan.
What to look for in a SBOE candidate
KERA asked an expert who does pay attention to the State Board of Education how to best assess candidates seeking the office. Catherine Robert teaches at the University of Texas at Arlington and co-wrote an article about the duties of State Board of Education members.
More than anything, Robert said a candidate “must have an appreciation for an understanding of the vast complexity of the Texas Public School Educational System, the wide diversity of students we serve, and the inherent value and challenges within that broad range of programs that we offer.”
They should also have a strong background in one of the three areas: curriculum, finance or school initiative.
“And they should have the capacity to contribute to the other two areas,” added Robert.
But she stressed that “There’s much more to the job of the state board than these topics that we hear so much conversation about.”
Former Dallas School Board member Miguel Solis also told KERA that a candidate running on a single, politically-charged issue may not be the best informed or best qualified candidate. For instance, Solis calls the CRT debate a straw man.
“I’ve been in the school systems, I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been a central administrator. How the [CRT] conversation is being framed is a disingenuous conversation and it’s hyper-partisan,” he said.
Solis used to teach 8th grade American history and a section on Reconstruction — the period immediately following the U.S. Civil War. Under the state’s current CRT-ban law, he says instructors are feeling a chill because they worry mentioning historic facts they used to teach may now be illegal.
“The second that you start compromising the fidelity of the pedagogical process for educators in front of students, you compromise a kid’s education,” added Solis.
Early voting for the primaries is under way now. Election day is March 1.