Tag Archives: Keven Ellis

SBOE Wrap-Up: November 2016

SBOE logoFriday, Nov. 18, wrapped up a busy November meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE), which returned to Austin to tackle a wide range of subjects before the holiday break. Here’s a brief rundown of the week’s action.

Mexican-American Studies

The board said “no thanks” to a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook that sparked protests over factual errors and complaints regarding the way Mexican-Americans are characterized in the text. After a morning dominated by demonstrations and a press conference held by opponents of the textbook, the board denied approval and asked for more submissions of ethnic studies materials. The Texas Tribune‘s Aliyya Swaby has a blow-by-blow of the drama that unfolded on Tuesday. Read more about the board’s decision and what it means for both textbook publishers and school districts teaching the elective course in this press release from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

TEKS in the Crosshairs

Wednesday’s agenda focused primarily on updates to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (curriculum standards) for mathematics, science, English language arts, and reading. On the subject of math, board members heard exhaustive testimony regarding process standards, and whether less emphasis should be given to word problems and process questions both in the curriculum and on standardized tests. Members seemed to generally agree in a reduction in emphasis, but were concerned what the mathematics TEKS would be left with if process standards were done away with altogether.

The committee also heard reports from educator committees assigned to review the science TEKS in several areas, but most of the attention focused on biology. Reviewers recommended edits to the biology TEKS that included sections seen by some on the board as challenging the theory of evolution. In testimony, one biology teacher who sat on the review committee countered that the changes were made for streamlining purposes and preserved encouragement for instructors to engage in healthy debate of scientific theories. The Texas Tribune posted a summary of the arguments.

Bond Guarantees

On Thursday, the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund delved into a question regarding the use of the fund to guarantee loans for new school buildings. When growing school districts want to build, for example, a new campus, they may not necessarily have the cash on hand to pay for it right away. To get things going, they can issue a bond – basically, a loan – which they can pay off, with interest, over time. Just like you, if a school district has better credit, it can get better financing and pay less interest, which can add up to millions of dollars for a big construction project. In order to get the best financing possible, public school districts with less-than-perfect credit can get the bond “guaranteed” by the $30 billion Texas Permanent School Fund (PSF). It’s a bit like your parents co-signing a loan: You get a better interest rate because they promise to pay the bank if you can’t keep up with your payments.

Dollar fanCharter schools can also take advantage of the Bond Guarantee Program, but on a limited basis. For qualifying charter holders, the amount available under the program is set by a capacity multiplier currently set at 3.25 percent. Charter holders complain the regime creates an annual rush to snap up limited resources. At Thursday’s hearing, they asked the committee to expand the multiplier to 3.5 percent, which would create several hundred million dollars in additional bond guarantees available to charters. Some on the board expressed concern over expanding the debt for which the PSF is liable to charters over which the state has less control. The board gave preliminary approval to raising the multiplier, while halting a related proposal by TEA staff to create additional academic criteria for charter holders to qualify for the program. The Austin American-Statesman‘s Julie Chang has a thorough write-up on the bond program discussion, complete with the following quote from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter:

“The board’s first priority should always be to protect the fund so that it continues to be available to guarantee new bonding for facilities for all Texas students,” Exter said. “We agree with the commissioner on enhancing academic requirements to access the bond guarantee program. Some board members have expressed concerns about expansion by charter holders who have not utilized their current capacity. ATPE encourages those members to continue to ask those sorts of questions.”

SBEC Rules

Friday wrapped with the board taking up several rule proposals sent to them from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). All SBEC rules must undergo final review by the SBOE board, which can vote to reject and send back proposals or take no action — which has the effect of approving the proposals. All the SBEC proposals received final approval. Learn more about those educator preparation and discipline proposals in this recent blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

Legislative Recommendations

The board also approved its 2017 legislative recommendations, which include a prohibition on vouchers, increased appropriations for TEA staff to adequately oversee and support the TEKS process, support for federal E-Rate support funding, an elimination of TEA’s arbitrary limit on students receiving special education services, and improved student data privacy, among others.

Farewells

This week’s SBOE meeting was the final one for two outgoing board members, Martha Dominguez (D) from SBOE District 1 and Thomas Ratliff (R) from SBOE District 9. Dominguez is an educator and current ATPE member; many of the board members referred to her as the heart or conscience of the board.

Thomas Ratliff

Thomas Ratliff

Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, came onto the board eight years ago, after winning a primary election to replace the former board chair and a divisive figure in curriculum battles, Don McLeroy (R). During his tenure, Ratliff helped usher in one of the most productive and cooperative periods in the history of the SBOE.

Both of these members will be greatly missed, and ATPE thanks them for their service. After Dominguez and Ratliff decided not to run for re-election this year, their respective replacements were determined through this year’s elections to be Georgina Perez (D) and Keven Ellis (R). Perez and Ellis will begin their four-year terms in January

.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 27, 2016

The week was dominated by big election news. Read the latest from ATPE and Teach the Vote:

 


American voting pins

The May 24 primary runoff election included some high-profile races of special interest to the education community.

The Republican primary runoff for SBOE District 9, where incumbent Thomas Ratliff (R) did not seek re-election, became one of the most anticipated contests in Texas but garnered attention from the media here and around the country. Outspoken and controversial candidate Mary Lou Bruner, who had been the front-runner in the March 1 primary and almost escaped a runoff, was defeated Tuesday night by Dr. Keven Ellis. Between the two elections, Bruner had angered many educators within and even outside the northeast Texas district with questionable claims about school conditions there and an apparent refusal to fact-check or correct her misstatements. At least one Tea Party group that endorsed Bruner early on withdrew its support for her, while educators rallied around Ellis, who had been endorsed by the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC, to help him secure the win. Other closely watched races this week included Republican primary runoffs in Texas Senate Districts 1 and 24, where voters chose Tea Party-backed candidates Bryan Hughes and Dawn Buckingham, respectively, over their Texas Parent PAC-endorsed opponents David Simpson and Susan King

With extremely low voter turnout, several Texas House runoffs produced slim margins of victory, and at least two of those races are headed for a recount. Check out our blog for more from The Texas Tribune on anticipated recounts in House Districts 128 and 54. Candidates have until June 6 to decide if they will seek a recount. HD 128, a seat currently held by Rep. Wayne Smith (R), was one of the runoffs Tuesday night in which incumbent legislators were ousted by more conservative challengers; Rep. Doug Miller (R) in HD 73, another Texas Parent PAC-endorsed candidate, is the other incumbent who lost his runoff on Tuesday in a winner-take-all race where there are no candidates from other parties seeking the seat this November.

For a complete list of Tuesday’s outcomes in state legislative and SBOE runoffs, read our runoff election recap blog post from Wednesday.

 


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

On Wednesday, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability held another meeting in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the commission’s day-long work session. The inability to reach consensus yet on a number of questions relating to how Texas tests students is causing the commission to add another meeting in June to its schedule. Read Monty’s blog post from this morning to learn more about the ongoing deliberations of the commission.

 


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

With the dust settling on the Texas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling, many are wondering what, if anything, lawmakers will do to change the funding system that justices described as “Byzantine” and “undeniably imperfect.”  This week, ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson appeared on Time Warner Cable’s Capitol Tonight program to talk about school finance. Josh explained ways in which past budget cuts, that were never fully restored, have affected classrooms and noted that per-pupil funding has not kept up with rising standards for students, schools, and teachers over the years. Check out video of the episode here.

 


Girl (3-5 years) riding tricycle with USA flag along path, low sectionEnjoy the Memorial Day weekend!

Celebrate the end of the school year!

Stay safe if you’re hitting the road!

Primary runoff election results shape outlook for public education in Texas

ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Last night marked the likely end of primary election season in Texas, unless there are requests for recounts of runoff election returns in a few close races. The primaries hold high significance in Texas, where most elected offices are filled through the primary and not the general election. This is due to the fact that district maps are drawn in a manner that favors one political party over others. Some races will only attract candidates from one political party, meaning that the entire contest will be decided through the primary process with no other candidates on the ballot in November. A number of other races draw candidates from multiple parties, but the dominant party will still have a major advantage in November due to the composition of the district, making it more likely that the primary election will be where voters pick the ultimate winner.

ThinkstockPhotos-523002181_IVotedThe Texas primary elections on March 1 resulted in 22 runoff contests that were decided last night. In some, only a fraction of a percentage point separated the candidates. Turnout was predictably low, with some House races garnering only 3,000 to 5,000 total votes in the runoff.

Unquestionably, one of the most watched races of the night for members of the education community was in State Board of Education (SBOE) District 9, where controversial candidate Mary Lou Bruner (R) had a commanding lead after the March 1 primary election. Despite her background as a former educator, Bruner angered many in the education community in recent weeks with fact-challenged claims about the state of public education and conditions in local schools, not to mention a host of other outrageous remarks that garnered national media interest.

Keven Ellis

Keven Ellis

Second-place finisher Keven Ellis (R), buoyed by educators determined to keep Bruner off the board, successfully made up enough ground to sail past Bruner with 59.2 percent of the vote, compared to her 40.8 percent. There will be two more candidates on the ballot in November, but the district leans Republican giving Ellis a strong position going into the general election.

Here are the results in other races of particular interest to the education community:

Carter

Dakota Carter

SBOE District 6: Dakota Carter (D) prevailed over Jasmine Jenkins in this Democratic primary race in Harris County. Carter will next face Donna Bahorich (R), the current chair of the SBOE, and a couple of independent/third-party candidates in a November general election contest.

Senate District 1: In this open race to succeed outgoing Sen. Keven Eltife (R), the winner last night was current Rep. Bryan Hughes (R), who prevailed over fellow Rep. David Simpson (R) to gain the promotion to the upper chamber. No other candidates have filed for a place on the ballot in November, making Hughes the senator-elect.

Senate District 24: In another open race created by the expected retirement of Sen. Troy Fraser (R), the winner last night was eye surgeon Dawn Buckingham (R), who defeated Rep. Susan King (R) for the Republican nomination. Buckingham will face a Democratic opponent in November.

House District 5: In another northeast Texas contest, this open House seat (created by Rep. Bryan Hughes’s ascension to the Senate) goes to Cole Hefner (R). He defeated Jay Misenheimer (R) last night, and there is no other candidate in this race.

Bailes

Ernest Bailes

House District 18: Ernest Bailes (R) easily defeated Keith Strahan for this open seat that has been held by Rep. John Otto (R), who did not seek re-election. There is still an independent/third-party candidate in the race in November, but the district favors the Republican nominee Bailes.

House District 27: In one of the few Democratic party runoffs last night, Rep. Ron Reynolds (D) defeated challenger Angelique Bartholomew (D) to get his party’s nod for re-election. Reynolds must still face a Republican challenger in November.

Holland

Justin Holland

House District 33: In one of the closer contests of the night, the winner was Justin Holland (R) over John Keating (R) by a difference of 99 votes for the Republican nomination. A handful of other candidates remain on the ballot for November. Incumbent Rep. Scott Turner (R), who had previously challenged Rep. Joe Straus (R) unsuccessfully to try to become Speaker of the House, opted not to run for re-election this year.

House District 54: Killeen mayor Scott Cosper (R) defeated Austin Ruiz (R) for the Republican nomination in this district, where current House Public Education Committee chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) is not seeking re-election. Only 43 votes separated the two candidates at the end of last night’s runoff, however. There is also a Democratic candidate on the ballot in November.

House District 64: In the Denton area’s open race to succeed outgoing Rep. Myra Crownover (R), last night’s winner for the Republican nomination was Lynn Stucky (R), who prevailed over Read King (R). Stucky will face a Democratic opponent in November.

House District 73: In one of last night’s two big upsets, four-term Rep. Doug Miller (R) was defeated by challenger and Tea Party favorite Kyle Biedermann (R) in this winner-take-all race in the New Braunfels area.

House District 120: This is one of two races in which local voters have been fatigued by campaigns for both a special election and the regular 2016 elections within the same district. This San Antonio-area seat was vacated by former Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon earlier this year. In a special election on May 7, a different set of candidates vied for the right to serve out the remainder of McClendon’s term this year; Independent candidate Laura Thompson and Democrat Lou Miller were the top vote-getters in that special election and are headed to a runoff on Aug. 2 (with early voting July 25-29). The winner of that special election runoff will only get to serve a few months before being replaced by the winner of the seat in last night’s primary election runoff. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D) received the most votes last night, defeating Mario Salas (D), meaning that she will be assume this House seat for a full term starting in January.

Cain

Briscoe Cain

House District 128: This race produced another upset of an incumbent House chairman, after Rep. Wayne Smith (R) was very narrowly defeated by challenger Briscoe Cain (R). A mere 23 votes separated the two candidates by night’s end. There is a Libertarian candidate running in the November general election.

House District 139: This is another district in which voters went to the polls twice this month within the same district. After Houston mayor Sylvester Turner gave up this seat, a special election was held May 7, resulting in a win for Jarvis Johnson (D) to serve out the remainder of Turner’s unexpired term. Last night, Johnson also defeated Kimberly Willis (D) to take over the seat for a full term beginning in January. Fewer than 3,000 votes were cast in this Democratic party runoff. No other candidates have filed to run for the seat in November.

Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundATPE reminds voters that regardless of which primary you participated in this spring, you can vote for any candidate in the general election on Nov. 8, 2016. For instance, if you vote in the Republican primary, you are not bound to vote for the Republican candidates in the general election; you can still vote for Democratic, third-party, or independent candidates come November. Many ballots cast in the general election will include votes for candidates from a mixture of parties. The important thing is to VOTE! When educators vote, educators win!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 20, 2016

Important runoffs are happening in some parts of the state. We’ve got your election news and more in this week’s wrap-up:


Early vote pic from EAToday, May 20, is the last day to vote early in primary runoffs for Republican and Democratic races in which no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the votes on March 1. Polls close at 7 p.m. tonight. Several legislative and State Board of Education (SBOE) seats are up for grabs on Tuesday’s runoff election day.

Read our early voting blog post for a list of districts that have runoffs, tips on where to find your polling places, and more. Don’t forget to check out the runoff candidates’ profiles, including voting records and survey responses, using our 2016 Races search page.


Hotly contested runoffs capture attention of voters, political action committees, and media

Whether or not you live in SBOE District 9, chances are you’ve heard about the high-profile runoff contest taking place in that northeast corner of Texas. In the open seat to replace Thomas Ratliff (R), who is not seeking re-election, candidates Mary Lou Bruner and Dr. Keven Ellis are vying for the Republican nomination. Bruner attracted early attention from local and national media with her Facebook claims (as reported by The Texas Tribune and others) that President Obama had been a gay prostitute and drug addict. Those early Facebook posts have since been shielded from public view, but candidate Bruner has continued to shock voters with questionable assertions about public schools, including accusations about the number of substitutes holding teaching positions in a local school district and the percentage of students in special education.  Earlier this week we republished a story from The Texas Tribune about a meeting with area school superintendents who challenged Bruner on her dubious claims.

Following that meeting, an influential Tea Party group announced this week that it was retracting its earlier endorsement of Bruner. Grassroots America – We the People said in a statement, “We are all disappointed to have to take the strong measure of withdrawing our endorsement for a candidate. Since the institution of this organization in 2009, we have never had to take such an action; however, this organization requires accountability and personal responsibility from the candidates it endorses…. Unfortunately, once we viewed the raw, unedited video of Mrs. Bruner speaking to Region 7 Superintendents on May 4th and read her written statement, we had no choice but to start the process of reconsidering the endorsement.”

The fact that another Texas Tea Party group recently chose not only to reject Bruner but even to endorse Dr. Keven Ellis in this race underscores the serious concerns that many have expressed about Bruner’s ability to serve effectively on the SBOE. The publishers of the Texas Tea Party Voter Guide stated that Bruner “has gone too far and is making us all look like idiots. If she gets elected she will do more damage to the conservative movement than anything she might accomplish, so we are supporting Keven Ellis.” Interestingly, Ellis also earned the endorsement of Texas Parent PAC.

Bruner earned 48.4 percent of the vote in the March 1 primary compared to Ellis’s 31.05 percent. However, both candidates were relatively unknown at that time, and media interest in the race has put it on the radar of more voters and education stakeholders throughout the state. With Ellis appearing to capture increasing support from such diverse interests, this race will certainly be one to watch on Tuesday.

Also in the spotlight are runoffs for Senate Districts 1 and 24. SD 1 is an open seat, where incumbent Sen. Kevin Eltife (R) is not seeking re-election. Republican candidates and current state representatives David Simpson and Bryan Hughes are locked in a tight race with dueling endorsements, matching pleas for smaller government, and efforts to appeal to education voters. Simpson received the coveted endorsement of the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC and is airing radio ads in which he touts his support for school funding and opposition to cuts to the public education budget. Hughes, meanwhile, is the only non-incumbent senator to be formally endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), after Patrick originally stated that he would not get involved in the primary races. Education reform and pro-privatization groups such as the Texas Home School Coalition and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (Empower Texans) have backed Hughes, but he’s also using campaign ads to try to appeal to retired educators by featuring photos of his meetings with local retired teachers. This is a winner-take-all race on Tuesday since no Democrats or third-party candidates have filed to run for the open seat; Tuesday’s winner will take office in January 2017.

SD 24 is another open seat race worth watching on Tuesday night. State representative Susan King (R) and Dr. Dawn Buckingham (R) are vying for this Senate seat currently held by Sen. Troy Fraser (R), who announced plans to retire. This race featured a crowded six-person field in the Republican primary on March 1. King earned 27.25 percent of the vote, while Buckingham brought in 24.76 percent. Expect another close match-up in Tuesday’s runoff for the Republican nomination. The winner will face Democrat Jennie Lou Leeder in November.

A few of Tuesday’s House runoffs are also winner-take-all races, in which the primary winner will face no opposition in November. In HD 5, Republicans Cole Hefner and Jay Misenheimer are in a runoff to determine who will succeed Rep. Bryan Hughes (R). HD 73 features a runoff between Rep. Doug Miller (R) and challenger Kyle Biedermann (R). In HD 120, the winner of the primary runoff between Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D) and Mario Salas (D) will decide who takes this House seat previously held by Ruth Jones McClendon (D) in January 2017; this is despite the fact that another, separate election is taking place this year to determine who fills McClendon’s vacant seat for the remainder of this year. HD 139 is another open seat for which both regular and special elections are taking place in 2016. After a vacancy was left for the House seat of Sylvester Turner (D), now mayor of Houston, Jarvis Johnson (D) won a special election earlier this month to serve out the remainder of Turner’s term, but Johnson faces a runoff on Tuesday against Kimberly Willis (D) for the upcoming full term to begin in January 2017.

Check out profiles of these and other runoff candidates using our 2016 Races search page.


Related: Supreme Court’s school finance ruling highlights importance of 2016 elections

Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

A week has passed since the Texas Supreme Court ruled that our state’s school finance system meets the constitutional minimum standards. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson writes about why your vote is the only thing left to compel legislators to take any action to improve the way we fund our schools. Josh also explains why discussions of two legislative committees this week about the possibility of new spending restrictions are another cause for concern. Check out his latest blog post here.


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

FEDERAL UPDATE

It was a busy week for education in Washington, D.C., as discussions continued over how to implement the nation’s new federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has written an update on ESSA, including the latest debates over the law’s “supplement not supplant” language, as well as new legislation relating to school nutrition. View Kate’s blog post here.

 


RULEMAKING UPDATE

In his first few months on the job, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has put forth administrative rules pertaining to a number of controversial topics. First, the commissioner finalized rules begun by his predecessor to implement the state’s new recommended teacher appraisal system known as T-TESS. ATPE has filed a legal challenge against the T-TESS rules, arguing that they violate existing state laws, the Texas Constitution, and public policy expectations. That petition has been referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings so that an Administrative Law Judge can decide the merits of ATPE’s case. In the meantime, be sure to check out our T-TESS resource page on ATPE.org to learn more about the new evaluation rules and how they might affect you.

Related: The Hawaii State Board of Education voted this week to remove student test scores from its teacher evaluation system. Hawaii was one of several states that had incorporated student growth measures into a new teacher evaluation system in recent years, partly in order to satisfy criteria for an NCLB waiver. Texas’s T-TESS rules were similarly design to match NCLB waiver conditions that are no longer applicable, which ATPE cited in our requests for Commissioner Morath to revise T-TESS and reconsider the student growth measure language in the rules.

Commissioner Morath has also proposed rules for Districts of Innovation (DOI), implementing 2015 legislation that allows acceptably-rated school districts to claim exemptions from numerous education laws. ATPE has submitted comments on the proposed rules, urging the commissioner to address serious concerns about implications for educators’ and school districts’ immunity protections in school districts that claim entitlement to blanket waivers of all exemptible laws in the Texas Education Code. We’ve got updated information on some of the districts that are pursuing DOI status on our comprehensive DOI resource page on ATPE.org.

Also in the works at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are rules to implement a 2015 law that requires video surveillance equipment in certain classrooms serving students in special education programs. Yesterday, TEA officials held a public hearing on proposed commissioner’s rules for implementing Senate Bill 507. ATPE previously submitted written comments on the proposed rules, which have not yet been finalized. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these and other rules as developments occur.

Related: The Texas Tribune hosted an interview with Commissioner Morath on Tuesday. The event was sponsored in part by ATPE. View video from the event here.


Next week, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability meets Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Austin. View the commission’s agenda here. We’ll have more on the meeting next week, along with complete results of Tuesday’s big runoff election day, here on Teach the Vote.

ThinkstockPhotos-485333274_VoteIf you live in a runoff district, don’t forget to go vote early today or vote on Tuesday!

From The Texas Tribune: Allegations of Fearmongering in Education Board Runoff

by Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune
May 17, 2016

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

CANTON — Today’s schoolchildren favor socialism over the free market. Common Core educational standards — banned in Texas — have crept into the classroom. And Texas schools should “teach the knowledge and skills that made the United States the leader of the world,” including cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

State Board of Education hopeful Mary Lou Bruner’s fear-inducing, back-to-basics talking points have not changed much during a GOP runoff campaign that began after she nearly won a three-way primary to represent northeast Texas on the panel that sets state curriculum and adopts textbooks.

Neither, though, have Keven Ellis’.

Despite finishing a distant second to Bruner in the March 1 primary, when GOP voters demonstrated a strong preference for far-right candidates, Ellis has deliberately stuck to his policy-focused message: He wants to support educators by working with them rather than against them, narrow a curriculum he describes as “a mile wide and an inch deep” and overhaul the current standardized testing regime. That is, when he’s not urging voters to ignore Bruner’s message of alarm.

“You will hear her say that children belong to the parents and not the government — and of course they do — but she has also said that if your children go to school saying things like ‘abortion is wrong’ and they don’t believe in global warming, they could get a visit from the school administrator” and put themselves at risk of being taken away by Child Protective Services, Ellis said earlier this month during a sparsely attended GOP runoff forum in the East Texas town of Canton.

Ellis, a 45-year-old Lufkin chiropractor, who has served for three years on the local school board and is now its president, added that the Texas Legislature has already banned Common Core, and the state curriculum still includes cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

“It’s all about inciting fear,” he said. “Please see through this.”  

Bruner, a conservative activist who worked in East Texas schools for 36 years as a teacher, counselor and educational diagnostician before retiring in 2009, said there’s plenty of reasons to be afraid of “elites in the federal government that are trying to give us a one-size-fits-all, top-down education system.”

“If that is fearmongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over,” she said. “We should be scared when they want to take away from us what our government was built upon and totally revamp it and make it like the socialist and communist countries of the world.”

The 69-year-old from Mineola, who won 48 percent of the March primary vote to Ellis’ 31 percent, also bashed reporters for fixating on her conspiracy theory-laden Facebook posts during the primary campaign. Now mostly hidden from public view, they contended that President Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his youth to pay for a drug habit and that the Democratic Party was behind President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“They always want to smear my name and start with that before they ask me what I want to do on the State Board of Education,” she said, adding in an interview that “I’m really sick and tired of the way they’ve treated me.”

The GOP forum in Canton was one of just a handful of events during the nearly three-month runoff campaign where both candidates were present. Several local conservative groups, which have overwhelmingly backed Bruner, have not invited Ellis to meet with them or speak at their events, according to Ellis and local activists. One of the groups, though, is currently reconsidering its endorsement of Bruner after she made several inaccurate statements in a speech to East Texas superintendents. 

“That is counter to what we should be about,” said Dwayne “Doc” Collins, a Canton activist who founded five local Tea Party groups and organized the forum. The 70-year-old veterinarian said he’s “going to have to break with a lot of my fellow Tea Partiers” to support Ellis.

Ellis “has a lot of positive things he could bring to the state school board,” said Collins, who has known Bruner for years. “He would be quite a bit more cooperative … less confrontational.”

If that is fear-mongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over.— Mary Lou Bruner, Republican candidate for State Board of Education

 

But many who attended the forum said it was the first time they had even heard of Ellis or knew there was another candidate in the race besides Bruner. Several said they were leaning toward Bruner after hearing from both candidates because she spoke to their concerns — namely Common Core — and demonstrated conviction.

“She was boisterous. She didn’t back down,” said Patrick Wilson, a retiree who now works as a substitute teacher in Canton.

“She’s my gal,” Jon Smith, another local retiree, told The Texas Tribune at the forum. “She wants to get rid of the Common Core that’s starting.”

Almost every other state has adopted Common Core, the K-12 educational standards championed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers — and incentivized when the Obama administration tied their adoption to federal grant eligibility. But Texas’ GOP leaders have rejected the standards for a perceived liberal bias, and the Legislature passed a bill in 2013 banning their adoption or use.

Ellis says he is also opposed to Common Core but described it in an interview as a “non-issue” despite the fact that it’s clearly a concern among his would-be constituents.

Meanwhile, he’s hoping Bruner’s “outlandish comments” will help his cause.

Inaccurate statistics Bruner cited earlier this month during a speech to Region 7 superintendents — including the percentage of students enrolled in special education and the number of substitute teachers working in Lufkin schools — have gotten her in hot water with the influential East Texas Tea Party group Grassroots America — We the People, which endorsed Bruner in the primary.

The Smith County-based group has asked her to “produce her sources” and is “reconsidering” its endorsement, Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said in a text message. The group has also said it doesn’t agree with Bruner’s Facebook posts.

While some of the figures cited in the speech, captured in a cellphone video and circulated online in recent weeks, may have been wrong, Bruner said, “Everything I said is basically true,” including that schools are struggling with teacher shortages and so have to use substitutes.  

“Let me tell you what, the superintendents are not all Republicans,” Bruner said. “Many of them are Democrats, and they have an agenda.”

Bruner confirmed she has not received any endorsements from Texas superintendents. More than 70 of them have endorsed Ellis in the race, as well as statewide teacher groups and the Texas Parent PAC. Ellis also has received endorsements from state Rep. Trent Ashby of Lufkin and outgoing House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, both of whom are key members of the more moderate bloc of Republicans in the Texas House aligned with Speaker Joe Straus

Whoever prevails in next week’s runoff will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in the November general election. Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said he doesn’t expect Bruner’s comments to hurt her much.

Ultraconservative GOP runoff voters are “going to focus on the bigger picture of going back to basics — having schools that reflect their values and looking to keep Common Core out of Texas,” Jones said. “Perhaps they wouldn’t say that Obama was a former prostitute financing his drug habit, but they do not have a favorable opinion of President Obama and therefore aren’t going to be turned off by that statement.”

 


Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/05/17/sboe-race-candidates-stick-their-message/.