This weekend marked the deadline for Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to sign or veto bills passed by the 84th Legislature. By Sunday, Abbott had vetoed a total of 42 bills. One fairly high-profile education bill was among the group: Senate Bill (SB) 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) was an ATPE-supported bill that called for the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and narrow the content and scope of the foundation curriculum standards that form the basis of STAAR tests.
The curriculum standards, officially known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), have always been a source of controversy. Partly because of political battles among SBOE factions aiming to inject the standards with content deemed to be either liberal-leaning or conservative-leaning, the TEKS have swelled to a point that many educators consider them to be unwieldy. ATPE and others who supported SB 313 hoped that an SBOE review aimed at narrowing the TEKS would provide some relief, but Abbott vetoed the bill on Friday, June 19.
In his official veto message on SB 313, Abbott wrote, “While Senate Bill 313 is intended to provide additional flexibility to school districts when purchasing classroom instructional materials, the bill potentially restricts the ability of the State Board of Education to address the needs of Texas classrooms. Portions of Senate Bill 313 may have merit, but serious concerns were raised about other parts of the bill. I look forward to working with the Legislature and other stakeholders to ensure this issue is vigorously evaluated before next Session.”
The “serious concerns” cited by Abbott were apparently those voiced by a small group of conservatives worried that the bill would open the door for introduction of Common Core to Texas. A number of Tea Party operatives had criticized the bill on that basis, despite the existence of another state law passed in 2013 that already prohibits the adoption of any national curriculum standards in Texas. (In fact, while serving as Attorney General, Abbott issued an opinion emphasizing that school districts in Texas are not authorized to use Common Core under state law. Nothing in SB 313 would have negated that law.) Even the bill’s author told reporters recently that SB 313 had nothing to do with Common Core, and Sen. Seliger reiterated his own opposition to Common Core. Notwithstanding the substance of the actual bill and strong state laws that already keep Common Core out of our state, the perceived link between SB 313 and Common Core became the curriculum bill’s fatal flaw.
Late in the legislative session, some conservative members of the SBOE and leaders of Tea Party groups were already lobbying lawmakers to reject the bill, but SB 313 ultimately passed with only a handful of no votes, as we reported on our blog back on June 1. With passage of the measure, social conservatives opposed to SB 313 shifted their efforts instead toward lobbying Abbott to veto the bill. The leadership of the Texas Republican Party recently adopted a resolution urging Abbott to veto SB 313, complaining that the bill “puts recent conservative curriculum victories in jeopardy, including emphasis on patriotism as required by state law, discussion of the Founding Fathers and documents, American Exceptionalism, America’s rich religious heritage, character education, achievements of Ronald Reagan.” The resolution also claimed that the current TEKS “require students to know specific facts and reflect conservative values of Texas, but forcing the SBOE to remove content and make it more general reflects the philosophy underlying the Common Core standards.”
We’re disappointed in this instance that Gov. Abbott paid more deference to the politically-motivated, fact-challenged paranoia of a few individuals with extreme viewpoints than to the vast numbers of SB 313 supporters who wanted to see something done about the voluminous TEKS our teachers are forced to cover every year despite the limitations of time and testing. The only consolation is that we still have House Bill 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), which the governor did sign into law, and that bill will require the Texas Education Agency to conduct a comprehensive study of the TEKS. We hope that the study will produce the kind of “vigorous evaluation” of the issue that Abbott wants to see and allow the legislature and SBOE to make some positive, lasting changes in 2017.