The fallout from the State Board of Education’s debate over the teaching of evolution continued this morning in the Senate Education Committee, which held a spirited discussion on Sen. Kel Seliger’s SB 2275 transferring authority for textbook adoption from the State Board of Education to the state’s Education Commissioner. How spirited? Sen. Kip Averitt, one of the most soft-spoken members of the Senate, was moved to observe that partisan discord has so infected the State Board that its Democrats believe “Republicans want to impose their religious beliefs” on public school students while its Republicans believe “Democrats want to teach our children how to masturbate.” That woke up the audience members, some no doubt wondering how such a course might boost their kid’s GPA. Seliger — and Averitt’s — point is that educators have been left out of the textbook adoption process by the state board, which has on several occasions discarded the work of professionals in charge of getting Texas students college-ready. Proponents testifying in favor of the bill noted that the evolution debate harmed Texas’s national reputation — and ultimately would hurt the development of science-based economic development. They also noted that the Legislature in 1995 tried to limit the grounds for which the SBOE could reject textbooks, but those limits have been repeatedly overstepped. Sen. Dan Patrick said he feared Seliger’s bill would take responsibility for textbook development “away from the people of Texas” who are represented by the elected SBOE. But Seliger said his bill would allow the SBOE — by a four-fifths vote — to overrule textbook decisions by the commissioner. Is there enough time left for such a controversial bill this session? Committee chair Florence Shapiro said she felt it was important to hold a hearing because of “pent-up” frustrations with the SBOE, but also says she hasn’t yet decided her position on the bill. By her estimate, a Senate bill must be out of committee by April 24, and off the Senate floor within five days following that, to have any chance of final passage this session. And that, of course, doesn’t take into account how much more time might be required for a hot-button issue.
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