State Board of Education: Bell-Metereau Faces Two Challengers
Bluer district creates opportunity to push board leftward
By Morgan O’Hanlon, Fri., Feb. 11, 2022
Two challengers are facing incumbent Rebecca Bell-Metereau in the Democratic primary election for the State Board of Education's District 5, which after redistricting is now a safely blue seat that includes all of Austin and most of the metro area. (Williamson County outside of Austin remains in District 10, whose incumbent Tom Maynard, R-Florence, is unopposed.) The 15-member board, with nine Republicans, controls the content of what's taught to Texas public school students by adopting textbooks and curriculum standards. In recent years, board members have faced off in debates over the teaching of evolution, sex education, the role of race in Texas history, and other controversial topics.
There's little doubt of Bell-Metereau's commitment to the job. She endured three previous campaigns for the seat, losing by increasingly narrow margins to former House member and religious-right stalwart Ken Mercer in 2010, 2012, and 2016, before finally flipping the district by less than 2% in 2020 after Mercer's retirement. In between, she ran in the 2018 primary for House District 45, leading in the first round but losing in the run-off to current Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood. "I'm a very persistent person," she told the Chronicle. "I thought if I'm really committed to this I should stick with it."
Her two challengers, Juan Juárez and Kevin Guico, each have critiqued Bell-Metereau's constituent service and what they see as her lack of proactive communication. Juárez, the principal at KIPP Austin College Prep, said he would host community meetups to discuss issues before the board. Guico, a former Dallas ISD educator who currently works at Empower Schools, said he would use the media to get the word out about SBOE business. Bell-Metereau said she makes "extreme" efforts to respond to every email she receives and connects one-on-one when constituents contact her with questions.
Both Juárez and Guico also want to increase diversity on the board. Juárez, who is Latino and a member of the LGBTQIA community, says he has "a unique and important perspective on what our families, educators, and students need to be equitable and high-achieving" that is informed by his identity. Similarly, Guico said he knows firsthand how much representation matters in education. "As a teacher, I was often one of the first Asian Americans my students had ever met," Guico said. Juárez has experience working for charter schools, while Guico has never worked on behalf of a Texas charter school. Juárez and Guico said they are both pro-public education and anti-voucher.
Bell-Metereau had not worked in the Texas public school system prior to winning her seat on the board. The Texas State professor first became interested in education as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad, where she and her husband both taught English for two years before returning to the U.S. to get their doctorates. Besides her care for public education, she said voters should support her reelection because she's spent the time learning the ins and outs of politicking on the board. "It's not as simple and straightforward as you would think," she said, explaining that she's learned how to form alliances with Republicans on certain issues. "If I had somehow magically gotten on the board back when I first started, I don't think I would've been as successful as I am now. I understand more about how you get things done."
One of two Republican candidates will face off against the winner of the Democratic primary: former Travis County Republican Party chair and conspiracy theorist Robert Morrow or physicist Mark Loewe, a self-identified libertarian and longtime advocate of school choice. But whoever wins the Democratic primary is likely to take the seat during the November election; according to data collected by the Texas Tribune, Joe Biden earned 64% of the votes cast within the new SBOE district lines.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Kevin Guico had experience working for charter schools. Guico currently works for education nonprofit Empower Schools and has never worked on behalf of a Texas charter school. The Chronicle regrets the error.
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