Abbott Names New Board of Education Chair

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout. 

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed a social conservative and former staffer for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to chair the Texas State Board of Education on Thursday.

Donna Bahorich will lead the 15-member board, whose duties include setting curriculum standards and approving the textbooks used by the state's more than 5 million schoolchildren.

Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, has served on the board since January 2013. She sat on the Committee on School Initiatives, which oversees issues related to charter schools, the Board for Educator Certification rules and the appointment of school board members for districts located on military bases. She is also a member of the board's Ad Hoc Committee on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education.

As chairwoman, Bahorich will set the agenda for the state education board's meetings, which occur five to six times a year.

 

Bahorich, who usually votes with the board's social conservative bloc, has close ties to Patrick. She was his campaign manager during his first run for the state Senate seat in 2006. After that, she served on Patrick's staff in varying roles including district director, campaign treasurer and communications director.

Board member Thomas Ratliff, a governmental relations consultant and lobbyist from Mount Pleasant, said he was disappointed to hear of Bahorich's appointment. Ratliff said he believes she does not have enough experience with public schools to qualify her for the job.

"She's a nice lady and a hard worker and I think her heart's in the right place," Ratliff said. "I just think it ought to be a fundamental requirement on the state board for someone to have had kids in public school."

Ratliff said he's now rethinking his decision to leave the board when his current term expires in 2017.

"That's no longer a guarantee that my days on the board are done," he said. "I may have more work to do."

The Texas Freedom Network, a liberal watchdog group that closely follows the board's movements, also expressed disappointment with Abbott's choice. 

"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," TFN President Kathy Miller said in a statement. "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.”

In contrast, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, praised Bahorich's selection, calling her a "tireless, dedicated public servant."

"Her commitment to our education system is admirable and the state will be well-served by her chairing the board," Bettencourt said in a statement. 

She replaces another Houston-area Republican — Barbara Cargill — a former science teacher from The Woodlands who was named to lead the board by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 and has reached the end of her term. 

Morgan Smith contributed reporting to this story.

 

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