For too many years, the Texas State Board of Education has had a reputation for being out of step with public education, or even the public at large. Our history has been colorful, to say the least.
So it is with a sense of pride and camaraderie that I can report that the current board is doing things many observers thought impossible just a few years ago — working on real issues facing our schools in a thoughtful and bipartisan way.
Admittedly, this is from my own perspective, and not everyone will agree with my assessment. But allow me a few specifics.
- Since 2012, we have added nine new members, each with his or her own unique background and experience, but all with a heart for kids in their district. We don't always agree on things, to be sure, but we are speaking from a basis of what is best for parents, kids, teachers, and school districts across the state. We don't view issues through a March primary lens. This may seem like a small step, but it is one giant leap for the board.
- In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2804, establishing the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. This was a joint effort involving several stakeholders of public education. Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Bahorich was allowed to select one of the board's 15 members to serve on this committee. She chose Erika Beltran, a Hispanic Democrat from Dallas. Donna didn't choose her for political reasons. She chose her because she felt she could do the job well and represent the board in a thoughtful and bipartisan manner. This kind of bipartisanship is the "new normal" for the majority of the board, and our students, parents and school districts are the direct beneficiaries.
- Earlier this year, a former member of the board submitted a toxic textbook related to Mexican-American studies. This book has garnered the kind of negative and inflammatory attention the board saw in previous years — ironically during the tenure of this former member. However, the current board has seen this book for what it is, and there is every indication that it is headed for a resounding defeat at our meeting later this month. And I don't think we will have to rip the cover off of the book to justify rejecting it. We have literally turned the page on these types of issues and stunts.
Now, let's turn to the election results from Tuesday.
Keven Ellis will take my place for the 31 counties in District 9 that include cities like Sherman, Texarkana, Lufkin and Tyler. He was most recently the president of the Lufkin ISD school board, and his 3 kids attended public school. He has seen the challenges and opportunities for public schools at the local level and has a real-world understanding of what those schools and their families need from the SBOE. Candidly, he is more qualified for the job than I was when I ran seven years ago. I have no doubt that District 9 will be well represented by Keven for at least the next four years.
The other new face on the board will be Georgina Perez, replacing Martha Dominguez in District 1, which represents the 40 counties in the Southwestern part of the state stretching from both women's hometown of El Paso to Bandera and Del Rio. Perez will bring her passion, energy and heart for kids and her community to her service on the board. District 1 residents will have a strong advocate in their corner.
No government body will ever be perfect, and there will be the unavoidable flare-ups due to the emotional and important stakes riding on many issues. But the State Board of Education has made strides to become representative of all Texans, and as I step down, I can see a bright future ahead.