9/15/2011 10:51 AM
It's now official. The computerized textbook bill -- Senate Bill 6 -- is an attack on conservative Christians, the elected State Board of Education, and Republican values. I've warned for some time that this bill does not comply with the Republican Party of Texas Platform, but now the misnamed Texas Freedom Network -- an organization that seeks to reduce the influence of conservative Christians in the public policy process -- has issued a report lauding Senate Bill 6.
Specifically, TFN has issued a "how-to" guide, encouraging school districts to use the bill to avoid books and materials approved by the elected State Board of Education. That means the board has less authority to enforce the new patriotic social studies standards that ensure students learn about the Founding Fathers, and it has less authority to keep fuzzy math out of the classroom.
This controversy is yet another example of how the politics of education has nothing to do with kids and everything to do with which adults get to spend money and in what amounts. SB 6 and its predecessor bill House Bill 4294 (2009) are about increasing sales for computer companies and software manufacturers like Microsoft. A quick look at the Texas Ethics Commission website will show that the computer companies that benefit from this bill have hired a bunch of lobbyists.
In all fairness, SB 6 is less of a violation of the Republican Party Platform than HB 4294. Specifically, SB 6 allows the board to require rejection of books placed on the commissioners' list. (HB 4294 allowed the commissioner to approve computerized materials without board approval). But the bill leaves intact a loophole that allows college professors to write textbooks and have them purchased by local school districts without approval from the elected State Board of Education.
Rep. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) succeeded in amending SB 6 to allow the elected board to reject books off the commissioners list, but he compromised with liberal Democrat Scott Hochberg and kept the open source loophole intact.
The open source loophole is a recipe for mischief. On college campuses all across Texas, American values and freedom are under attack. The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts, for example, rejected a Program in Western Civilization and American Institutions. After Republican legislators protested, the College renamed the program the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Ideas. Note the absence of the words "American" and "Western" from the new name.
College departments often improve in national rankings by showing their commitment to "multiculturalism" or "diversity," which are often code words for attacking America, Western culture, and free enterprise economics.
The elected State Board of Education is a critical counter-balance to the left-wing bias in higher education, which often seeps into K-12 education because of the role universities play in certifying teachers. Nothing was more important to Ronald Reagan that to ensure the next generation understands what is special about America. Reagan did not view American Exceptionalism as a local option or optional in any way. Politicians who bring the values of Reagan to Austin support, not attack, the elected State Board of Education.
It has always amazed me how many Republicans tell their constituents they believe in conservative Texas values and then act behind-the-scenes in Austin to undermine efforts to ensure those values are afforded fair treatment in Texas classrooms.
There's one thing Senate Bill 6 is NOT about, and that's teaching kids how to use computers. In 2009 -- at the same time lawmakers passed HB 4294 to encourage more computerized textbooks -- legislators also adopted a bill that removed the class on computing from the state curriculum. This is a lobby-driven bill that is about selling computers and software. Period.
The bill gets rid of direct purchase of textbooks by the state and instead creates an allotment that school districts can use to buy materials. The main goal here is to encourage districts to buy computers and laptops.
One of the challenges in education politics is the elected State Board of Education is an all-volunteer board, and many legislators don't follow the board carefully. Therefore, a lot of rank-and-file lawmakers did not connect the dots and understand how the open source loophole in SB 6 undermines the ability of the board to enforce its new patriotic social studies curriculum.
An ongoing debate within the Republican party surrounds how to hold elected legislators accountable for acting on the ideas in the party platform. Delegates to the state convention have frequently debated platform questionnaires and score cards as a means of enforcing the platform. Given the successful lobby effort to kill a ban on sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants, these debates will intensify in 2012. Perhaps one approach to solving this issue would be to appoint a task force to work the legislative process and educate members on the front end and only apply sticks on the back end if needed.
That said, this time socially conservative organizations asked leadership to remove the open source loophole (multiple times) during the 2011 legislative session, and leadership chose not to. They decided instead to side with liberal college professors and the misnamed Texas Freedom Network rather than stand for conservative values.
Texas children and classrooms will suffer as a result of this lobby-driven mischief.