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Veteran State Board of Education member loses her seat, two other Republican incumbents face runoffs

By Stephen Simpson, The Texas Tribune

Veteran State Board of Education member loses her seat, two other Republican incumbents face runoffs” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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A 20-year Republican member of the State Board of Education lost her party’s nomination to a challenger who promises to fight for Christian conservative values and two other Republican incumbents are headed into a runoff, potentially foreshadowing a continued shift to the right for the body that sets the state’s educational standards.

Pat Hardy, a former teacher and a veteran representing District 11, which covers parts of Fort Worth, lost her seat to challenger Brandon Hall, a youth pastor.

“Unfortunately, today, young Texas students have a broken public education system that’s ranked near last in the nation,” Hall said on his Facebook page three days before Election Night, promising to be the first line of defense against these issues. “They also face an onslaught against their innocence from [critical race theory], obscene library books, and sexualized agenda.”

Another incumbent, Tom Maynard of District 10, which includes Williamson and Bell counties, will go into a May 28 runoff against Round Rock school board member Mary Bone, who describes herself as a conservative champion for Texas kids.

Maynard, who received endorsements from Gov. Greg Abbott and former Gov. Rick Perry, campaigned touting his years of experience in the SBOE, time in which he said he has fought for conservative values, parental empowerment and fiscal responsibility. His opponent listed similar priorities but she also campaigned under the promise of ending “woke culture” in public schools.

In District 12, which covers parts of North Texas, the incumbent, Pam Little, faced off against three challengers and is now headed to a runoff against Jamie Kohlmann, a former Miss Texas who received an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I am thrilled to share that we’ve made it to the runoff election with a remarkable 10% lead,” Little said in a statement posted on her campaign page. “Your support and dedication have shown that District 12 will not let special interest groups take over our State Board of Education. Together, we’ve sent a powerful message: our community values education that puts our children first, not the agendas of outside influences.”

But her challenger is equally optimistic, saying that her making it to the runoff shows voters are not satisfied with Little.

“Our consistent conservative message hit a chord with voters. We’re in lockstep on the issues and have an aligned vision for what Texas kids need to succeed,” Kohlmann posted on her Facebook page. “Much remains — and we have a solid team and plan in place to bring Patriotism, Phonics, and Parental Rights back to the [SBOE].”

Hardy, Bone and Kohlmann couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. Hall and Maynard responded but did not share a comment on the election results before publication.

Kohlmann, Hall and Bone, the candidates challenging the incumbents, received support from Texans for Educational Freedom, a political action committee that has railed against critical race theory, seeks to remove sexually explicit materials from schools and criticizes what it perceives as a liberal bent in public education.

“I believe I had three people run against me to make it a runoff, and they succeeded,” Little said. “The same thing happened with Maynard. With Hardy, I believe, they knew she didn’t have a lot of funding, so they threw a lot of money behind an inexperienced opponent, and unfortunately, it worked.”

Little said she believes most voters may not be fully aware of who their elected SBOE members are, what they do and what they stand for.

“I think many people just vote for a name on the ballot because they come to the polls for a different campaign. I would say about 40% to 50% of the votes are just people picking a name,” Little said. “That will be different in the runoff because they will be voting for a purpose, specifically this race.”

However, interest in the 15-member board has intensified in recent years as parents and political leaders have become more vocal about what should be taught in Texas’ 1,200 public school districts. The board is responsible for determining standards for what Texas’ 5.5 million students must learn in the state’s public schools.

The pandemic’s impacts on school closings and mask mandates — as well as disagreements over how students should be taught about sexuality and America’s history of racism — have made SBOE races much more visible. Many have focused their attacks on critical race theory, an academic discipline that looks at how racism is embedded in institutions. Conservatives have used the term as a shorthand to criticize how race is taught in schools.

A big part of the Republican primary this year has been party members going after each other for not being conservative enough, and Little said she witnessed this trend happening with the SBOE races.

“I hate that kind of language,” Little said about the accusation that she is not conservative enough. “We are all conservatives who want the best for Texas. Just because we don’t agree on every vote doesn’t make someone more conservative than the other.”

The board currently has 10 out of 15 members who identify as Republican, but this hasn’t stopped calls for a more conservative vision.

Two former Republican SBOE members, Jay Johnson in District 15 in the Panhandle and Sue Melton-Malone in District 14, covering parts of North Texas, lost their primaries in 2022 to candidates who promised to get critical race theory out of classrooms. A third incumbent, Matt Robinson, didn’t seek reelection in District 7, which covers part of the Gulf Coast, because he didn’t think he could beat his challenger, who made critical race theory a central part of the campaign.

Emily Witt, a spokesperson for the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning state watchdog organization that supports public education and religious freedom, said the results of the Republican primary confirm the idea that conservatives are going to continue their effort to push public education further to the right.

“The incumbents I wouldn’t call moderate. They are very conservative and hostile to telling the truth, too. But I think it’s a trend that we will see continue as the religious right becomes more and more radicalized and it seems they have made education their battleground,” she said.

The new state board will significantly influence potential changes to the state’s social studies curriculum. In 2022, the SBOE decided to delay updating the statewide social studies curriculum standards until at least 2025. The board’s decision came after conservative lawmakers and parents testified that the proposed updates were influenced by critical race theory and didn’t include enough “American exceptionalism” or Christianity.

The board updates the statewide standards for the state’s 5.5 million students of all grades about once every decade.

Most recently, the board rejected many textbooks because of how they described climate change, approved new school library rules amid a discussion over inappropriate books and delayed various study debate courses on different races and ethnicities.

“I hope that as Texans see how radicalized the board is becoming, it will make them pay attention to these elections,” Witt said.

Disclosure: Facebook and Texas Freedom Network have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/03/06/texas-sboe-board-education-election-votes/.

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