3 Texas Republicans Vie for State Education Board Seat of Outspoken Thomas Ratliff

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AP File Photo/Eric Gay

Three Republican candidates vie for their party’s nomination for State Board of Education (SBOE) District 9, the East Texas seat long held by Thomas Ratliff (R-Mt. Pleasant). Ratliff currently serves as vice chair and is oft times, the reputedly outspoken voice on the Texas SBOE. He was first elected in 2010 and is not seeking re-election.

Those District 9 candidates are Hank Hering (R-Lindale ), Mary Lou Bruner (R-Mineola), and Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin). Lone Democrat Amanda Rudolph runs unopposed. The district covers a wide net of 31 northeast Texas counties.

The 15-member SBOE sets policies and standards for Texas public schools. Its primary responsibilities include setting curriculum standards, reviewing and adopting instructional materials, establishing graduation requirements and overseeing the Texas Permanent School Fund. They also can veto or allow the education commissioner’s picks for open-enrollment charter schools. Breitbart Texas reached out to the three Republican District 9 candidates on a few issues prior Tuesday’s primary.

Hank Hering, a software systems engineer, told Breitbart Texas by email his decision to enter this race was based on his youngest daughter, who graduated from high school, ranked ninth in her class in what Hering called “one of the better school districts in East Texas” but still felt unprepared for college. Recently, he told voters at a candidate forum in Grayson County this is because “we’re teaching to a test” and not “teaching children.”

Running as a “tried and true conservative,” he served the state’s Republican party in various capacities since 1988, including as a senatorial district chair when he lived in Houston and as treasurer of the Smith County Republicans. Grassroots America We the People (GAWTP) endorsed Hering as “a devoted conservative” calling him a “watchdog over the GOP platform.”

In a video, he stated: “We need people on the board who have the interests of ‘we, the taxpayers’ and no other agenda.” Hering told Breitbart Texas he favors “parents and concerned citizens” looking out for the sakes of the children, taxpayers, and the nation. Not a fan of the “education monopoly” which Hering said offers the “same thing, expecting different results,” he pointed to No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and CSCOPE as lowering educational quality.

Instead, he calls for a return to the basics of education saying, “The foundations of education are to prepare children for ‘real life,’ and that includes even simple things as balancing a checkbook.” He called the state’s 2013 college and career ready overhaul (HB 5) a step in the right direction but underscored the education system tends to pigeon-hole “and force people into whichever track school testing shows they excel.” He cautioned against “unintended consequences” of such legislation.

On school choice, Hering told Breitbart Texas, he supports “anything that will benefit the children,” including public, open-enrollment public charters, homeschooling, private, and parochial schools. The Texas Homeschool Coalition endorsed Hering, whose children attended public school.

GAWTP also endorsed challenger Mary Lou Bruner, a retired teacher with 36 years in the Texas public schools. She told Breitbart Texas by email she stands against federal top-down education programs like Common Core. Her webpage lists her as an advocate for traditional education. She said she wants to focus on “traditional fundamentals such as memorizing times tables, phonics, grammar, spelling rules, and cursive writing, the latter which she believes some schools have stop teaching. Cursive, perhaps a casualty of technloogy, remains required in elementary school by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

Bruner skirted sharing her thoughts on open-enrollment charters schools, which remains a priority for Texas’ top lawmakers. This year, Gov. Abbott proclaimed the last week of January “school choice week,” voicing support for families’ ability to choose the educational environment that best suits their children’s needs. Instead, she told Breitbart Texas, “Children belong to the parents, not the federal government” adding parents have a “fundamental right to help determine the curriculum their children are taught in public schools. A charge she would champion is “schools getting back to teaching the basic knowledge and skills that made the USA the leader of the world.” Similar to Hering, she told Breitbart Texas she wants to reform a system that teaches to end of the year testing. Conservative leader Cathie Adams, Texas Eagle Forum, also endorsed Bruner.

However, comments Bruner made on her Facebook page covering a smattering of topics from President Obama’s sexuality to the origins of the universe attracted unflattering media attention, including from the Texas Tribune. Bruner since removed the dicey remarks and told Breitbart Texas, “I don’t intend to apologize for my opinions because I still believe my statements were accurate.”

One post suggested that baby dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark. She told Breitbart Texas, “As for my personal beliefs as to how the universe was formed, scientists have forced us to say creation is religion and evolution is science.” Despite Bruner’s beliefs, Texas public schools opt for the scientific approach and teach the theory of evolution.

The Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the state’s wing of the nation’s second largest teachers’ union, endorsed the third Republican candidate Keven Ellis, a chiropractor who is president of the Lufkin ISD school board.

Last year, Texas AFT called on its membership to stop State Senate Bill 14, the pro-school choice bill that would repurpose failing public schools into charter schools. Instead, Texas AFT offered up progressive community schools, something national AFT calls the collective “promise of public education.” In the eleventh hour of the 84th Legislature, the Texas House introduced a community schools bill, HB 1891. Its primary sponsor was lead author of Texas’ revised 2013 College and Career Readiness Standards (HB 5), Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen).

“I believe Keven Ellis has the experience and values that will make him a great SBOE member,” said Aycock in an endorsement on Ellis’ Facebook campaign page where Ellis states he was “actively involved in implementing” HB 5.

In February, Texas AFT held coordinated “walk-ins” among their Austin, Houston, and Dallas ISD affiliated members to bring the full-service community schools model to fruition.

State Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) also endorsed Ellis. In the Texas Tribune article they cited Ashby and outgoing House Education Chair Aycock as key members of the Republican block aligned with Speaker Joe Straus.

Breitbart Texas reached out to Ellis on the issues. Over the weekend he emailed he was too busy campaigning and “I probably will not have a chance to get to this before Tuesday.”

Tuesday, March 1, is the date for the Texas primary. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters must show a valid photo ID to vote. See your local election official’s website for polling locations.

This article has been updated with additional information.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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