The 2011-2012 school year marked the first time in decades that Texas school districts could purchase instructional materials without approval by the state board of education. Senate Bill 6, which was implemented Sept. 1, 2011, freed up $792 million for school districts to purchase materials. The intent behind the bill was twofold: to allow district textbook coordinators to spend more money on instructional technology, and to prevent the content of textbooks from being held hostage to the political opinions of the state board of education.
Prior to the bill’s passage, Texas was one of nearly two dozen states with a centralized system of purchasing, in which the state board of education approves a list of materials that districts can use state money to purchase. Now, publishers can circumvent the previous system and deal with just the district.
“School districts responded favorably [to Senate Bill 6] because they were no longer restricted in their purchasing options,” says John Lopez, managing director for instructional materials and education technology with the Texas Education Agency. “The state board of education was concerned that districts would make the best decisions for students and align their purchases to Texas curriculum.”
BOE Trying to Restore Control
In an effort to restore some power that was lost, the Texas board of education issued Proclamation 2014 in April, which requests that publishers submit content for approval by the board for the 2014-2015 school year. The proclamation is not mandatory, and many publishers may choose not to comply.
Having content approved by the board of education can subject it to close scrutiny. According to the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit watchdog group, in 1995, the board asked for changes to health textbooks such as the removal of information about contraception and line drawings of breast self-exams. One publisher refused to comply with the board. In 2001, the board rejected an Advanced Placement environmental science book that discussed climate change. Throughout 2003, the board also struggled with publishers regarding civil rights, church-state issues and evolutionary science. According to Lopez, it’s difficult to anticipate the new spending patterns of districts, but from what he has seen, districts are predominantly choosing materials previously approved by the board, most likely because they have been using them for years. He expects to see technology purchases increase by the next school year.