AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas attorney general said Friday that the Board of Education can't tell local school districts what textbooks to adopt for their classrooms, interpreting existing state law as limiting the often controversial board's authority.
Republican Ken Paxton stated in an opinion that the board has only those powers "specifically delegated by statute" and that it "may not substitute its judgment for the lawful exercise of those powers and duties by the trustees."
The board's 15 members sanction textbooks for use statewide in a process that has for years been marred by ideological fights over lessons on subjects including evolution, climate change and the influence of biblical figures such as Moses on America's Founding Fathers. Texas has 5.2 million public school students, a textbook market so large that edits made for the board can affect what's published in other states.
But, in 2011, the Legislature approved a law giving school districts the option of adopting classroom materials that haven't won board approval. Relatively few school districts have taken advantage, though the use of iPads and e-readers makes it easier for publishers to tailor books to individual buyers' needs.
Still, Republican board member Barbara Cargill sought clarification on where the 2011 law and others left the board's authority over school districts' textbook approval processes. She said the state board's approval process is done publicly and ensures that textbooks meet state curriculum standards. She said she was worried that local adoption of classroom materials could undermine that.
"I seek to identify the extent of the board's rulemaking authority to ensure that, at the local level, appropriate process and safeguards exist with regard to the adoption and use of instructional materials by a public school," she wrote when asking for the attorney general's opinion in June.
She also wrote: "With the greater flexibility public schools are afforded in purchasing instructional materials, quality control and public input to the instructional materials process may suffer."
Cargill, of the Woodlands, did not return messages seeking comment Friday on Paxton's opinion. She served as Board of Education chairwoman until her term expired and she was replaced this summer by Houston Republican Donna Bahorich.
Dan Quinn, of the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning board watchdog group, said Paxton's opinion marks at least the third time since 1995 that board members have sought attorney general clarification on state law meant to limit the body's authority — and that each opinion has found that the Legislature meant to curtail the board's power.
"We're certainly pleased to see the attorney general agree that this attempted power grab by certain board members wasn't supported by state law," Quinn said.