Texas Governor Gregg Abbott has sparked a new education-based controversy in his home state by appointing as the new chair of the Texas Board of Education Donna Bahorich. Bahorich, formerly the communications director for Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, homeschooled her children before sending them to private school and therefore has no direct experience with public schools. She also voted for the recent changes to Texas textbooks, which include referring to slavery as the “Atlantic triangular trade,” as well as other inaccurate and biased language.
“My research and my work and my desire and interests have all been in education,” said Bahorich on Texas Public Radio. However, she is not receiving much support from her fellow Republicans. Thomas Ratliff, a Republican member of the state Board of Education, noted that, though public school isn’t for everyone, it makes sense that the chair “have at least some experience in that realm, as a parent, teacher, something.”
The Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan, grass roots organization including more than 100,000 religious and community leaders, has also spoken out against Bahorich’s appointment, expressing concern that it will further the state governor’s efforts to bring religion and right wing politics into Texas education. “If Governor 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,” wrote network president Kathy Miller in a statement. “This appointment almost guarantees that the board will continue to put culture war agendas ahead of educating more than 5 million Texas kids.”
The network also noted that Bahorich voted against a board resolution urging the legislature to reject private school vouchers, which take money away from public schools.
The Bahorich appointment is only one element of Governor Abbott’s increasing tendency to be swayed by his more conservative homeschooling constituents. He recently vetoed Senate Bill 359, which would have allowed physicians to detain patients if they are considered a risk to themselves or others. The Texas Home School Coalition had expressed opposition, saying the bill was an attack on parental rights.