Textbook-Related Legislation Moves Forward

On May 10 the Texas House of Representatives passed HB 1172 and forwarded it to the Senate. This bill would restore the State Board of Education's (SBOE) authority to reject textbooks for any reason, a power which has been restricted in recent years by other legislation. Previously Texas had been the scene of spirited creationist attacks on evolution during its textbook adoption process. Because of the size of its educational system Texas exerts considerable influence over publishers and the national textbook marketplace. Local observers expect the return of pressure to censor or modify texts on many subjects, including biology, if the SBOE regains absolute control over textbook contents.

When originally introduced, HB 1172 dealt with other education issues, and included provisions that the state board and local districts ensure that:

(1) the public school curriculum reflects the importance of patriotism and promotes an appreciation for our free enterprise system and basic democratic values;
(2) each historical event addressed in the public school curriculum meets a reasonable test of historical significance, considering the limited amount of time available for instruction;
(3) each controversial issue addressed in the public school curriculum is presented in a balanced manner that reflects multiple viewpoints regarding the issue; and
(4) the public school curriculum reflects an overall tone that portrays the United States as a country that has overcome its mistakes and emerged as the freest, most democratic nation in the history of the world.

However, this language was removed in the Public Education Committee and the Board of Education provisions substituted. Among the authors of the committee substitute was the sponsor of another bill, HB 1447. The latter contains very similar provisions regarding the SBOE, as well as the requirement that textbooks:

... be free from factual errors, including errors of commission or omission related to viewpoint discrimination or special interest advocacy on major issues, as determined by the State Board of Education ... Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the State Board of Education has sole and unlimited authority to determine textbook content under this subchapter and curriculum requirements under Section 28.002. The board may reject any textbook that contains factual or other errors or that does not comply with the textbook content standards adopted under this subsection.

HB 1447 has been passed by the Public Education Committee and is waiting to be scheduled for consideration on the House floor.