Election to determine direction of education board

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News,Science and Technology

DALLAS (AP) — The general election on Tuesday will help determine how much control social conservatives have on the Texas Board of Education as voters select representatives for all 15 spots.

The entire panel is up for election because of redistricting.

The board, set to adopt new science textbooks next year, has drawn attention in years past for ideological battles, with social conservatives trying to draw doubts about the theory of evolution and elevate conservative figures in history lessons. There are four Democrats and 11 Republicans on the board, with six of those Republicans considered part of the social conservative bloc.

Eight incumbents are trying to retain their spots on the board in the general election. Three face no major party opposition to retain their posts: social conservative Republican David Bradley, whose District 7 spot represents far Southeast Texas; moderate Republican Thomas Ratliff, whose District 9 spot represents East Texas and Pat Hardy, a Republican swing vote whose District 11 spot represents parts of North Texas' Tarrant and Dallas counties.

Republican Sue Melton faces no major party opposition for the District 14 spot representing part of North Texas after defeating social conservative incumbent Gail Lowe in the primary.

There are six board races in which a Democrat and Republican are facing off that do not include an incumbent.

The Texas Board of Education's responsibilities including establishing the state's public school curriculum, approving textbooks and managing the state's permanent school fund. Because all seats are up for election this year, newly elected members will draw numbers at the first meeting and eight will get four-year terms and seven will get two-year terms. After that, they'll have four-year terms.

An intense fight over how evolution is taught in science curriculum put a national spotlight on the board in 2009. The board ultimately decided that Texas schools would no longer have to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. Teachers would still be encouraged to consider "all sides" of scientific theories.

The board did see a shift more toward the center after the defeat in 2010 of social conservative Republican Don McLeroy, the former board chairman who believed the Earth was only 6,000 years old and that the Christian influences of the founding fathers are important to studying American history.

Some voters had the adoption of science books by the board on their mind when they went to the polls Tuesday.

"There is certainly a place for religion, but it's not in a science textbook. I have some real concerns about how that's presented," said Celeste Yoshinoba, 49, an academic adviser at Texas Tech.

But also in Lubbock, 64-year-old Harold Paulk, a pipeline technician, said, "I'm totally against evolution. I do not believe that, period."

In the Lubbock area, Republican Marty Rowley faces Democrat Steven Schafersman. Rowley says on his website he supports letting students "look at all sides of scientific theories, including evolution, intelligent design and global warming." Schafersman, who founded a watchdog group for accuracy in science education, said on his website that he'll represent "the wishes of the Democrats, Independents, and mainstream conservative and moderate Republicans who support public education, not the wishes of radically-regressive Tea Party Republicans."

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