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Election Brings Changes to Polarized Texas School Board

The Texas Board of Education will have several new faces following an election in which all 15 seats were on the ballot. An Associated Press story highlights in particular the ouster of incumbent Republican Carlos "Charlie" Garza, who was seen as a key vote for the bloc of social conservatives on the state board, which has long been politically polarized.

Garza was defeated by Democrat Martha Dominguez, a veteran educator who was twice named teacher of the year at Riverside High School, according to the El Paso Times. She previously was president of the Yseleta Federation of Teachers.

The board has been a flashpoint for debate in recent years, especially during deliberations over new standards for science and history/social studies. Next year, the board is scheduled to adopt new science textbooks. (Earlier this year, it approved new math standards.)

The election results hand Democrats one more seat on the panel, so that the overall makeup will now be 10 Republicans and five Democrats. But the real issue is the proportion of social conservatives and more moderate-leaning Republicans. The AP story suggests that the board now has six GOP members who are considered part of the social conservative bloc.

To be clear, changes to the board's makeup following the 2010 elections already were seen as weakening the influence of conservatives.

"Two years ago, their dominance started to wane. And this cycle it has further waned," Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators told the AP.

Meanwhile, Republican Marty Rowley defeated Democrat Steven Schafersman for a spot on the board, the AP reports. On his website, Rowley said he supports allowing teachers and students to "look at all sides of scientific theories, including evolution, intelligent design, and global warming, without fear of recrimination." But while calling himself a conservative, he has reportedly said he would not necessarily always vote with the social conservative bloc.

Also, Democrat Marisa Perez defeated Republican David Williams.

Regardless of the outcome of individual races and the new balance of power, experts say the board's reach more broadly is starting to diminish in some regards based on recent policy changes. For example, a 2009 law allows school districts to purchase digital textbooks with state textbook aid from an approved list developed by the state education commissioner—rather than from the state board's list of approved texts—and also to use a portion of that money to buy hardware to access digital content. Another law aims to help districts gain access to high-quality, open-source textbooks.

By the way, a new documentary chronicles the "revisionaries" on the state board and their work on the science and social studies standards.

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