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Texas governor picks home-schooler to lead state Board of Education

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at his inauguration ceremony, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Austin. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

When it comes to education, Texas is the state that keeps on giving — and not in a good way.

In 2010, there was tumult over proposed changes to social studies standards by religious conservatives on the State Board of Education, including one that referred to the United States’s slave trade as the “Atlantic triangular trade.” In 2014, the board majority approved new social studies textbooks, some of which were criticized as being inaccurate and biased. And now, Gov. Greg Abbott,  has sparked controversy — even among fellow Republicans — with his appointment of a new chair of the Texas Board of Education, which is charged with setting policy and standards for the state’s public schools.

Abbott tapped Donna Bahorich, a Republican from Houston who has been on the board for two years and who home-schooled her three sons before sending them to private schools. They never went to Texas public schools.

Bahorich, a former communications director for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who will succeed outgoing chair Barbara Cargil, was quoted by Texas Public Radio as saying that “my research and my work and my desire and interests have all been in education.” But her appointment is drawing criticism not just from Abbott critics but also from some of Bahorich’s Republican colleagues. Texas Public Radio quoted Thomas Ratliff, a Republican member of the state Board of Education, as saying:

“Public school isn’t for everybody, but when 94-percent of our students in Texas attend public schools, I think it ought to be a baseline requirement that the chair of the State Board of Education have at least some experience in that realm, as a parent, teacher, something.”

The Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan, grass-roots organization of more than 100,000 religious and community leaders that monitors far-right issues, organizations, money and leaders, said in a statement that when Bahorich joined the board in 2013, she voted against a board resolution urging the legislature to reject private school vouchers. And she was part of the board majority that voted to approve the new textbooks last year.

[Texas approves social studies textbooks criticized as inaccurate and biased]

The network’s president, Kathy Miller, said in the statement:

“If Gov. Abbott wanted to demonstrate that he won’t continue his predecessor’s efforts to politicize and undermine our state’s public schools, this appointment falls far short. The governor has appointed as board chair an ideologue who voted to adopt new textbooks that scholars sharply criticized as distorting American history, who rejected public education for her own family and who supports shifting tax dollars from neighborhood public schools to private and religious schools through vouchers. This appointment almost guarantees that the board will continue to put culture war agendas ahead of educating more than 5 million Texas kids.”

The Austin Chronicle reported that Abbott’s decision follows his decision to veto a Senate bill “seemingly at the behest of the Texas Home School Coalition.” The bill would allow doctors to detain a patient who had requested treatment if the doctor believes they are a risk to themselves or others. Says the Chronicle:

Currently, this requires a court to issue an order of protective custody, making it a legal, not medical issue.
What does that have to do with homeschoolers, you may legitimately ask? The Texas Home School Network actively opposed it, and any other bill that its leadership thinks restricts parents’ right to run their children’s lives how they see fit.