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Highlights from in and around the world of Texas politics

Associated Press | 6/5/2017, 1:52 p.m.
As the Texas legislative session came to a close as of Monday’s final adjournment, lawmakers worked to resolve lingering issues. ...
Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, center, stands with other Texas legislators and civil rights representatives during a news conference at the Texas Capitol, Monday, Jan. 9, in Austin. The group called for Gov. Greg Abbott and other legislators to protect the rights of minorities and immigrants as the Texas' 85th Legislative session begins the next day. Eric Gay

Still, supporters of the House plan had called it an important first step toward more-complete school finance reform that will take many years. The Senate proposal preserves much of that work, but, as Democratic Sen. Jose Menendez of San Antonio noted of vouchers during Monday’s debate: “This one particular topic might tank the whole thing.”

Even Taylor conceded that many in Texas think “the whole world is coming to an end over that little bitty thing.”

Textbook policy sparks concerns

The often-combative Texas Board of Education would expand its ability to reject textbooks it doesn’t like, rolling back limits that have been in place for more than two decades, under a proposal on the verge of clearing the state Legislature.

Some fear the bill’s benign language would, intentionally or not, return broad influence to a veteran bloc of social conservatives on the 15-member elected board. That same bloc previously has attempted to de-emphasize lessons on evolution and climate change and insists that publishers edit classroom materials to better conform to Republican ideology.

How impactful is the textbook market in Texas? Large enough that changes made for the state can affect what’s taught nationwide, though modern, electronic classroom materials have made it easier to tailor lessons to individual states and school districts – thus diluting the board’s national influence some in recent years.

The board’s ability to influence what gets published in textbooks – even sometimes line-editing materials to remove things its members didn’t like – was far greater before 1995. That year, the Texas Legislature passed an omnibus education bill that included limits that allow the board only to reject textbooks with factual errors or material that doesn’t conform to Texas curriculum standards for what is taught to about 5.3 million public-school students.

Texas school districts – more than 1,000 in number – don’t have to use board-approved textbooks, but most do.

Some say a bill already approved by the Texas Senate and scheduled for a state House vote Tuesday would return sweeping influence to the board. The proposal would require that all materials on the Board of Education’s instructional list be “suitable for the subject and grade level” for which it was submitted. That seems relatively tame, but classroom advocates say it is subjective enough to force wholesale textbook rewrites.

“Board members will take this bill as an open invitation to return to the days of almost unrestrained bullying of publishers to change or censor textbook content for purely political reasons,” said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group and frequent board critic. “The board will become an even bigger political circus than it has been.”

The proposal’s sponsor, Sen. Kel Seliger, doesn’t see it as a broad expansion of power, however.

“There’s been a lot of weirdness, but as it’s described in the bill, it’s about age and grade appropriateness and things like that,” said Seliger, a Republican from Amarillo. “The culture wars won’t be played out in legislation.”

But Seliger also acknowledged that the proposed changes could have unintended consequences. “Absolutely there will be factions that try to stretch and look for things like ideological purity.”