Among the states on the ballot this fall for voters is Central Texas, the seat for the district’s newly drawn State Board of Education.
Rebecca Bell-Metereau, the Democratic incumbent in the 5th district, will face Republican Perla Muñoz Hopkins, a former Leandro district teacher, at a time when state legislators are more interested in the school curriculum.
Muñoz Hopkins was recently added to the ballot after Republican nominee Mark Loewe, former chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, died shortly after the primary.
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Texas local law allows for a substitute nominee to be chosen after the primary if the chosen candidate dies before the general election. The local Republican Party was established in August by Muñoz Hopkins.
The State Board of Education approves curriculum and textbooks for public schools, administers the Texas Permanent School Fund, and issues educator regulations and applications for new school boards.
Both candidates expressed concern about social studies in the background of the debate, which dominated the state of education in September, when the board opted to postpone amendments to education standards.
The State Board of Education has faced backlash from conservative organizations and groups that object to topics included in proposed curriculum updates such as the LGBTQ pride movement and racial history in the country.
“Essentially, they just kicked it down and said we’re going to reject a curriculum that was developed by teachers and social studies experts,” said Bell-Metereau, who beat two Democratic challengers in the March primary.
Elected to the board in 2020, Bell-Metereau is a film professor at Texas State University.
Bell-Metereau supported the proposed social studies curriculum because it addressed issues that were part of history, she said. The republic complained about the course.
“Their idea of social studies is really just propaganda,” Bell-Metereau said. “He really just wanted to promote patriotism, American excellence and whitewashing our history.”
Muñoz Hopkins, a U.S. Air Force veteran who lives in Leander, is concerned about the goals of his social studies career and taught anti-American sentiments.
“When we have these things available to teach when it comes to social studies, and you want to act on anti-American, anti-Christian sentiments, all you do is take away educational opportunities for our kids,” said Muñoz Hopkins.
Censorship of books
Muñoz Hopkins worries about what anti-patriotic sentiments have already been taught in schools and objected to teachers and staff asking their students for pronouns.
“We don’t send our children to our schools to be indoctrinated,” Muñoz Hopkins said. “We don’t send them to explore their sexuality.”
Muñoz Hopkins is also concerned that some books taught in classrooms contain racist or adult language that has no place in the classroom, she said.
“Not every book out there is relevant in an educational setting,” said Muñoz Hopkins.
More:Texas leads the nation in books banned from schools, a free speech analysis group found
Bell-Metereau, on the other hand, most often hears from teachers about the state’s willingness to change their career path, she said.
“I just hate to see political education in this way,” Bell-Metereau said.
The candidates also differ in their opinion on how school charters should be prevalent in the educational system.
Charter schools are public schools outside of the traditional school system and often focus on a unique style of education. Because they are public schools, charter campuses receive public funding.
“I support parents’ freedom of school choice,” said Muñoz Hopkins.
Muñoz Hopkins thinks that parents should have an option from traditional elders.
Bell-Metereau isn’t opposed to all charter schools, but she thinks the state board that deals with approving new charter schools is being very selective about which applications it approves. She also opposes the use of incentives in which the state helps families cover the cost of private schooling.
“It shouldn’t be something where taxpayers are giving their money to religious education, so they don’t believe, other kids,” Bell-Metereau said.
Both candidates ran this year in the newly completed District 5. Legislators redrew state boards last year, creating a popular advantage. The old map split Travis County between District 5 and the more rural District 6, but all of Travis County is now encompassed in District 5.