Grabbing McLeroy's Chair

When El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, in a Senate confirmation hearing, scolded State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, saying that McLeroy had "created a hornet's nest like I've never seen here," he was hardly alone in that opinion. With many legislators sick of the SBOE controversies – be it appalling attempts to push creationism into classrooms, pressuring textbook manufacturers to similar ends, or one member's writings warning of martial law coming under Obama and calling public education a "subtly deceptive tool of perversion" – 15 bills have been filed trying to rein in the 15-member body.

The most successful move thus far: Shapleigh has apparently blocked McLeroy's renomination as board chair. McLeroy is elected to his seat, but his chairmanship is an appointment by Gov. Rick Perry and requires two-thirds confirmation in the Senate – and Nominations Committee Chair Mike Jackson says the votes just aren't there.

Austin Rep. Donna Howard has also aimed several measures at the board. Her House Joint Resolution 77, which passed the House last week, would strip oversight of the Permanent Education Fund from the SBOE and put it in the hands of an appointed body of financial experts, pending approval of a constitutional amendment by voters. And Dripping Springs Rep. Patrick Rose's bill to place the SBOE under Sunset review failed narrowly on third reading Wednesday.

Less successful has been Howard's attempt to make SBOE elections nonpartisan. The reaction of many Texans to SBOE controversies may be the same as that of comedian Bill Maher: "Texas has a Board of Education?" Conventional wisdom is that religious fundamentalists stealthily built a seven-member bloc via unknowing Republicans simply pressing "straight ticket." Howard hoped that removing that option would force voters to really examine candidates, but she said this week she "didn't see much momentum" to get her HB 420 out of committee.

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81st Legislature, Eliot Shapleigh, State Board of Education, Don McLeroy, Rick Perry, Mike Jackson, Donna Howard, creationism

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