Texas Education Board Grapples with Loss of Power Over Textbooks

Marion Herbert's picture
Friday, April 20, 2012

The Texas State Board of Education, long the gatekeeper to the enormous textbook market in Texas, has lost control over which materials enter public school classrooms.

Lawmakers last year passed legislation that untethered the $792 million available for school districts to buy instructional materials from the board's approval of those materials.

Textbook publishers "don't have to go to the State Board to get their license to sell any longer," said lobbyist David Anderson, who represents a major textbook company. "The money is controlled by the schools."

The policy objective of Senate Bill 6 was to give school districts more flexibility to spend limited dollars on an evolving list of tools, such as e-readers, that can be used to disseminate the required lessons.

But the political effect was to strip the board of its veto power.

"It's pretty clear that it reduces our authority in the sense that we're not the only game in town," board member Michael Soto, D-San Antonio, said in an interview.

"School districts have additional options to choose from, and publishers are going to have to think very carefully about whether it's worth their time and money and go through the board process."

The board is set to vote today on final changes to the textbook approval process in response to the new law. The board members are trying to strike a delicate balance between providing enough oversight to ensure quality materials without making it so burdensome that publishers balk.

"If the State Board is not ready to adapt along with that, the publishers are going to go around it," Soto said.

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