Empty classroom

Empty school classroom

AUSTIN — Over the course of two days of committee meetings, Texas lawmakers took on two of the biggest complaints in the state’s education system: access to inappropriate materials and parents’ rights in their child’s education.

The Texas House Public Education Committee met for a total of 25 hours on Monday and Tuesday, hearing testimony on two subjects that will likely take center stage in the coming session.

On materials deemed inappropriate by some, state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, asked Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath whether he is aware of any curriculum in the state that bullies students based on race or grooms them with pornography.

Morath said the Texas Education Agency has received complaints on the issue, but added that he could not indicate whether it is a widespread problem.

“It’s a very big state, and the world's complex. So the short answer to that question is yes, we have complaints that would appear to substantiate periodic instructional materials problems in those areas,” Morath said.

He said this was likely because the language of the standards that are adopted by the State Board of Education “allows for a broad degree of interpretation.”

Morath said the current education system is a state-recommended but locally controlled framework. This means that although state boards, like Texas’, outline what students should learn in certain grade levels and provide textbooks that align with those preferred learning outcomes, local school boards have final say over purchased textbooks and learning materials.

He added that lawmakers can strengthen policies to address any concerns.

“The question of what our kids are taught is a deeply important question,” Morath said. “The focus on the quality of the curriculum, making sure that it is free from ideological bias to the extent that we can — these are worthy objectives and benefits.”

The committee also heard testimony from dozens of parents, citizens and professionals on parents’ rights in their child’s education.

Across the state, what students are taught has become the subject of debate, with some saying it could be one of several reasons why teachers are not returning to the classroom, further exacerbating the critical teacher shortage statewide.

Morath, however, said data suggests that teachers are overworked with stagnant pay.

“We have set teachers up with jobs that are very difficult for mortals to do,” he said.

This election cycle, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has made a particular push to expand parents’ rights to make them the primary decision maker when it comes to what their child is taught.

If reelected for a third term, he has promised to expand parental access to course curriculum by requiring schools to provide course curricula at the beginning of every semester.

Morath said he believes that rights start, stop and revolve around parents.

“I think anytime you assume otherwise, you're making egregious mistakes,” he said. But he added that he believes when a parent sends their child to school, it is a partnership between the school and parent to educate the child.

Both topics are likely to garner attention during the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 10.

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