State Board of Education candidates in agreement on several topics at forum

Published on Tuesday, 18 October 2016 00:43 - Written by FAITH HARPER, fharper@tylerpaper.com

Two candidates vying for the District 6 seat on the State Board of Education faced off Monday evening and found they had largely the same views.

Lufkin ISD school board president and chiropractor, Dr. Keven Ellis, the Republican candidate, and longtime educator Dr. Amanda Rudolph, the Democratic nominee, took questions Monday evening at the League of Women Voters - Tyler/Smith County forum.

The pair agreed on a range of issues, including stances against school voucher programs, federal intervention in the Texas system as well as working to empower teachers and create an equitable funding model for Texas school districts.

Voters will have a choice between Ellis, of Lufkin, and Rudolph, of Nacogdoches, to represent the 31-county district, which encompasses Northeast Texas and its roughly 200 school districts. Libertarian candidate Anastasia Wilford did not attend the forum.

The 15-member board is responsible for setting curriculum standards, reviewing and adopting instructional materials, establishing graduation requirements, overseeing the Texas Permanent School Fund, providing final review of rules proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification and it has the authority to veto a recommended applicant for a charter school, according to the Texas Education Agency’s website.

School finance reform will inevitably be a topic in the upcoming Texas legislative session as lawmakers say they will address problems in the school funding system.

Rudolph and Ellis said they were in favor of finding ways to make it more equitable so the state spends the same amount to educate each child.

“There is a formula system in place that has put Band-Aids on top of Band-Aids, year after year,” Ellis said. “The end answer is you have to start from scratch - take off all the Band-Aids and make it equal across the board so children aren’t favored before they get to the starting line.”

Texas is one of eight states that does not participate in the federal Common Core program. Instead, it developed the Texas College and Career Readiness Standards in 2008, according to TEA.

Both candidates emphasized local control for Texas and its school districts.

“I do believe that education is still a state right,” Ms. Rudolph said. “It is not set out in the constitution as a federal right. I think states have the right to create their own curriculum. They know what is most important to their students in the state.”

Ellis said he was also in favor of narrowing the state’s education standards to give teachers more leeway in the classroom.

“(The standards are) too wide and not deep enough,” Ellis said. “Teachers can’t teach it to a level of mastery, rather a level of introduction. They have so much material they have to get in because it could be tested. Streamlining the (standards) will help so they have time to teach the material. Teachers got into teaching for the love of teaching, not for the love of testing.”

Rudolph said the state should also work to empower teachers.

“I think our main problem as a state is we don’t respect our teachers,” she said to an appreciative audience. “We don’t trust our teachers so we have resource curriculum; we have C-Scope. We are doing their jobs for them. We need to step back and let the teacher be the expert in the schools.”

Republican candidate Josh Joplin and Democrat Larry Reddic, in the Smith County Constable 4 race, also spoke at Monday’s forum. The winner of that race will replace John Smith in the precinct.

Democratic sheriff candidate Gary Pinkerton also took questions. Pinkerton is running against incumbent Larry Smith.

Phil Gray, a Libertarian candidate running against incumbent Louie Gohmert in U.S. House District 1, attended the forum and took questions.

Early voting runs from Oct. 24 through Nov. 4.

Election Day is Nov. 8.

Twitter: @TMTFaith