(2 of 3)
Huckabee supporter Kelly Shackleford, president of the Plano-based Free Market Foundation (FMF), dismisses concerns about a conservative takeover of the board, saying the social conservatives on the board are protecting Texas schoolchildren from pernicious liberal influences. But the FMF's primary voter's guide is much more specific, listing "evolution weaknesses" as their first issue of concern for SBOE candidates. As nonprofit groups, both the FMF and the TFN, arch-enemies in the battles before the state board, do not endorse in races, but their advisories on candidates' positions play an important role in swaying voters.
There are a total of seven SBOE seats on the ballot this year, but only two incumbents Hardy and a South Texas seat held for 26 years by Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga are in contention on primary day. Like most Texas congressional districts and board districts are larger SBOE seats lean either strongly Democrat or Republican, so any real challenges usually come in the primary. Democrat Berlanga is facing a primary challenge from Lupe Gonzalez, a school administrator who has expressed some support for the theory of intelligent design which many critics view as a fig leaf for creationism.
For over two decades, the 15-member elected board has been torn between two factions: in recent years a coalition of five Democrats and three moderate Republicans has managed to hold off efforts by the seven socially conservative Republicans to influence the board's mission. The SBOE debate over creationism and other issues important to social conservatives on the board sex education and religion in schools is still contentious, but the arguments have become more sophisticated, with no outright call for the banning of evolutionary theory. The debate now focuses on the inclusion of “intelligent design” to provide a counter to purported flaws in evolutionary theory. "In science class, there is no place for dogma and sacred cows, no subject should be 'untouchable’ as to its scientific merits or shortcomings," SBOE chairman Don McLeroy said in a letter to the Dallas News last fall.
In 1995, the Texas Legislature stepped into the fray to diminish the influence the SBOE had on textbook selection after social conservatives tried to impose their values and demands on publishers. Despite the legislature's action, which limited the SBOE to making sure textbooks met curriculum standards and were factually accurate, the SBOE social conservatives have continued to press for more influence. In December, with one member of their opposition missing, the social conservatives pressed one textbook publisher to change the phrase "married partners" in a health textbook to "the lifelong union of a husband and wife."