Texas Governor Greg Abbott has made an appointment that even his fellow Republicans find controversial: his choice for the new chairperson of the Texas Board of Education is Donna Bahorich, a Republican from Houston, who homeschooled her three sons before sending them to private schools.
Texas has been a battleground in the education arena for the past several years. First, in 2010, came proposed changes to social studies standards pushed by religious conservatives on the State Board of Education, which brought conservative ideology – even if it flew in the face of scholarship – into textbooks, writes Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post.
Then, in 2014, the board majority approved new social studies textbooks which critics said were inaccurate and biased.
Bahorich isn’t new to education policy. She has been a board member for two years, and as such, was charged with setting policy and standards for the state’s public schools. Thomas Ratliff, a Republican member of the state Board of Education, said:
“Public school isn’t for everybody, but when 94-percent of our students in Texas attend public schools, I think it ought to be a baseline requirement that the chair of the State Board of Education have at least some experience in that realm, as a parent, teacher, something.”
During her first year on the board, Bahorich voted against a resolution urging the Legislature to reject private school vouchers. She voted for those controversial new textbooks that scholars said distorted American history.
The Austin Chronicle reported that the governor’s decision to veto a Senate bill “seemingly at the behest of the Texas Home School Coalition” indicates that he is allowing homeschool interests to play too large a role in his decision-making. The bill was aimed at allowing doctors to detain patients if the doctor feels they are at risk to themselves or others.
The Chronicle continues by saying that, at this time, this process requires a court to issue an order of protective custody, making the action a legal, not a medical, issue. Homeschoolers are opposed because because it restricts parents’ rights to run their children’s lives in the way they see fit.
Bahorich’s critics in the Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan watchdog organization, say she will put “culture war agendas ahead of educating more than 5 million Texas kids.” Bahorich also served as communications director for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, reports Jason Howerton of The Blaze.
“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,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said in a statement.
Ryan Poppe of Texas Public Radio included Bahorich’s defense of her experience:
“My research and my work and my desire and interests have all been in education, so when there was an opportunity for me to run for office it seems like such a natural fit for me because of my intense interest in this area and because of the relationships I had formed while serving in then-Senator Patrick’s office.