Today I received a robo-call from former state senator and lieutenant governor Bill Ratliff urging Republicans to support Marsha Farney in her race for State Board of Education against Brian Russell. Ratliff’s brief message made the point that Farney had showed her commitment to public education by sending her children to public school. Russell home-schooled his children. (Ratliff’s son Thomas defeated Don McLeroy for a seat on the SBOE.) Soon after the robocall, I received an e-mail from Farney that was forwarded to me by a friend who follows the SBOE and is supporting Farney: As this Run-off Campaign concludes, it is ending with a disturbing but very clear message about the difference between the two Republican State Board of Education candidates and how important it is that you vote tomorrow. When an extremist stated on an internet page last month that sending children to a public school is “tantamount to child abuse” my opponent responded by stating, “Well said.” [Link omitted]. I say “enough said.” As disturbing as this is, it is no surprise given that my opponent has also stated he shares a common perspective with his close friend and author, Cynthia Dunbar [the incumbent SBOE member in this seat who chose not to run again and handpicked Russell to succeed her], who wrote that public schools are unconstitutional and a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” Perhaps this is why he [Russell] is quoted as saying he will ‘never send his children to public school.'” One thing is clear: this attitude has no place on a governing body that determines testing and academic standards for the 4.7 million school children in Texas and is an insult to every teacher, principal, parent, and grandparent who has a child enrolled in Texas Public Schools. On Tuesday, I need your help to make certain these type of extreme, irrational attitudes are kept away from our Texas school children and that sound, decent conservative principals and attitudes guide and determine the future of public school children – and the very future of Texas itself. I want to bring common sense values to the State Board of Education and give every school district I would represent a voice on this important body. But I can’t do that unless you vote in tomorrow’s election! [Hours and locations of polls omitted] Every vote matters in this close race! Please vote to put an experienced educator on the State Board of Education for the sake of our children and our families in the public school system. * * * * With the retirement of Dunbar and the defeat of Don McLeroy, the far-right contingent on the board is down to five members (pending the outcome of the Farney-Russell race). If Farney defeats Dunbar, the ten-member Republican majority would be split into two blocs of five. The easiest way to characterize the two blocs is that one faction regards the SBOE as a battlefield in the culture wars and has made the board a national laughingstock, while the other faction is supportive of public education and wants to focus on improving education rather than ideological crusades. The five Democrats are sometimes split as well; some of them have been all too willing to throw votes to the hard-right faction in return for favors such as plum committee appointments. The good news is that the member most prone to do so, Rick Agosto, of San Antonio, is not seeking reelection. A Farney victory would completely change the political balance on the board–assuming that she would align with the pro-public school Republicans. (Some are concerned that she might align with the far-right instead.) From the standpoint of advocates of public education, she can’t be worse than Brian Russell. Farney’s presence on the board would probably make the dividing lines between the factions more fluid and would empower the Democratic members to be swing votes. In other words, sanity may be returning to the State Board of Education. It’s about time.
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