Two seats on State Board of Education contested in March 4 primary
Two seats on State Board of Education contested in March 4 primaryBy APRIL CASTRO - Associated Press - 02/23/2008 - originalJust two seats on the 15-member State Board of Education are being contested in the March 4 primary, but the results of the races could shape the outcome of a brewing battle over how evolution is taught in Texas public schools.
Incumbents Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat, and Pat Hardy, a Republican, face primary challenges for another four-year term.
The board sets school curricula, selects textbooks and manages the $25 billion Permanent School Fund.
"When you think about the fact that the State Board of Education in Texas determines what every child in Texas public schools will be taught in K through 12, the impact that those members have is extraordinary on the future of Texas," said Kathy Miller, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors religious teachings in public schools. "These races are absolutely critical."
In addition to English, science curriculum standards are scheduled to be reviewed this year and observers expect a push from conservatives on the board to water down the teaching of evolution in classrooms as well as in textbooks.
"Membership of the State Board of Education is clearly, very evenly divided between the far right faction of the board and everyone else," Miller said.
Hardy and Berlanga "have been voting against the far right faction of the State Board of Education and have been vocal proponents for listening to the teachers that are actually in the classroom, for listening to the legislative mandate that they not be in the business of censoring textbooks."
In District 2, a large South Texas district, Berlanga, a 26-year board veteran, is being challenged in the Democratic primary by retired school-adminstrator Lupe Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said he believes intelligent design — a recent theory that the universe is so complex that science alone cannot explain the origins of life — should be included in textbooks as an alternative to evolution.
"The ... issue can be minimized to a large extent if we present alternatives to the theory of evolution, give both of them equal weight and that's it," he said.
"I just think that there has to be something far more than just a big-bang theory ... that it just happened haphazardly. I just have a hard time believing that that would be the case."
Intelligent design is being advocated in various states as an alternative to either evolution or creationism.
In North Texas' District 11, which includes the Fort Worth area, Hardy, a former high school teacher, is being challenged by Barney Maddox, a urologist from Cleburne who once testified that the state's science curriculum is an attempt to "brainwash our children into believing in evolution."
Repeated attempts to contact Maddox were unsuccessful.
The winner of the District 11 primary will not face a general election opponent.
Berlanga or Gonzalez will face Peter Johnston, who is running unopposed on the District 2 Republican primary ballot.
Republican incumbents Terri Leo, David Bradley, Barbara Cargill and Gail Lowe are unopposed in the primary. Bradley and Lowe will face a general election challenge in November, as will Democrat incumbent Mavis Knight, who also is unopposed in the primary.