The new State Board of Education met this week in Austin. Ever a more conservative body, the election of four new hard-right members was immediately felt in the boardroom this week.
Republicans LJ Francis (District 2), Julie Pickren (District 7), Evelyn Brooks (District 14), Aaron Kinsey (District 15), along with Democrats Staci Childs (District 4) and Melissa Ortega (District 1), were sworn in by Gov. Greg Abbott, who also offered comments on the direction public education should move during this legislative session. Though Abbott mentioned greater investment in our schools, there was a conspicuous absence of his previous rhetoric on vouchers or so called “school choice.”
Vouchers and “choice” were on the meeting agenda, however. Due to public pressure from conservative groups, SBOE members revisited their previously approved 88th Legislative Priorities in order to reconsider language that took a firm stance against public funds flowing to voucher schemes.
Board members voted to delete this statement from their priorities, a move that, while not binding, signals the new board’s closer alignment with state leaders on the privatization issue.
Additionally, the board voted in favor of a petition to amend its rule on the “no-contact” policy for new charter applicants. The existing policy prevents charter organizations from lobbying the Texas Education Agency and the SBOE during the application process.
In April, the board will begin the rulemaking process to reverse this policy almost completely. Any changes would not take effect until after this charter application cycle, but this action makes abundantly clear the influence that charters and other “school choice” advocates have on this new SBOE.
Texas AFT will continue to collaborate with its partners to educate state lawmakers on the negative impacts the charter system has on our public schools and work tirelessly at the Capitol to ensure our schools are protected from for-profit operators.