DALLAS (AP) — Republican Geraldine "Tincy" Miller is trying to reclaim a position she held on the Texas State Board of Education for 26 years after being ousted in the primary two years ago.
Miller faces social conservative candidate Gail Spurlock in one of three July 31 runoff races for the board, which has drawn attention in recent years for its battles over teaching evolution and attempts to elevate conservative figures in history lessons.
All 15 board seats are up for re-election following redistricting last year. Currently, there are four Democrats and 11 Republicans on the board, with six Republicans considered part of a social conservative voting bloc. The May primary effectively had no effect on the makeup of the board, which establishes the public school curriculum, approves textbooks and manages the state's permanent school fund.
"We would really like the State Board of Education to look like a body that is less politicized — is all about the business of public education," said Monty Exter, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
The winner of the Miller-Spurlock runoff will face Democrat Lois Parrott in the November election for District 12, which includes North Texas' Collin County and part of Dallas County.
Miller, of Dallas, is vice chairman of a commercial real estate company and has worked as a reading specialist focusing on dyslexia. She said three things set her apart: "my experience, my education and my credible conservative values."
"I would vote my conscience and my conservative beliefs," she said. Miller said that during her tenure on the board, she helped implement the first phonics-based state curriculum and was a watchdog for textbooks' content.
Miller also pointed out that she has a master's degree, while her opponent does not have a college degree.
Spurlock, of Richardson, countered that she has succeeded — without a degree — in a career as an information technology consultant.
"The problem is that academicians have been directing education," Spurlock said. "They've done their personal preferences and their ideas and their theories for 20 years. They started with 'Oh, we have to make children feel better about themselves. They're going to get better grades.' Twenty years later, maybe two-and-a-half generations of children going through the school system, 'Oops, that didn't work.' "
Spurlock said she would expect to vote "the vast majority of the time" with the social conservative bloc.
Earlier this year, Spurlock raised eyebrows she said the pilgrims were "required to be communist." She elaborated this month to The Associated Press that her point was communism was an old system: "At that time communism was just an economic system. It wasn't the ideology that it became under Karl Marx."
The board has become a little less political since the departure of Don McLeroy, the former board chairman who believed the Earth was only 6,000 years old. He was defeated in 2010 by a moderate Republican.
"We prefer a state board that listens to teachers and scholars rather than mocks them," said Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog of the far right. He added that the board has gotten "marginally" better in recent years.
In Central Texas' District 10, the candidates in the Republican runoff are Tom Maynard, of Florence, executive director of the Texas FFA Association, and Rebecca Osborne, of Austin, a high school speech teacher in the Round Rock district. The winner will face Democrat Judy Jennings.
Maynard, who taught agricultural education for more than a decade, said he expects there will be times he'll vote with the social conservative bloc and others when he won't.
"The only thing that really matters is to represent the people who sent you there," Maynard said.
Osborne said she's running "to make decisions that are in the best interest of children and I don't always think that happens," adding, "I'm not running to be part of any alliance."
In the Democratic runoff for the District 2 spot in South Texas, Celeste Zepeda Sanchez, an assistant superintendent for curriculum with the San Benito school district, is running against Brownsville businessman Ruben Cortez Jr. The winner will face Republican Laurie Turner.
Cortez, a partner in a management firm, said on his website that he advocates keeping politics out of the classroom and that "decreeing that a conservative agenda be taught to our children" is not the role of the board.
Sanchez said the board needs to listen to "the experts, the historians, and the teachers about what should be in textbooks."