State Board of Education: District 5
Because of redistricting, all 15 seats on the State Board of Education are up for grabs this election. Two of those seats cover Austin, and today we’re looking at the race in District 5. Four candidates are vying for the seat, including the incumbent.
Republican Ken Mercer swept District 5 in 2010 by more than 20 points. But last year the boundaries were redrawn, and the district became more Democratic with the inclusion of more of Travis County. The northern boundary of District 5 used to stop at Lady Bird Lake. Now it goes north all the way to 2222. Mercer is a San Antonio businessman and a social conservative. Among his accomplishments on the board, he lists making the history curriculum more patriotic.
“I very much saw an agenda out there, and we just want a true and accurate American history that tells both sides,” Mercer said.
Mercer supports teaching both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. In a candidate survey for the conservative Heritage Alliance, he says he strongly agrees with displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools. And on sex education, he believes in teaching abstinence and the consequences of having sex.
“And the impact could lead to infertility, other things too,” he said. “Parents want kids to know both sides of the equation, and they want them to know the consequences of the decision and what you could be exposed to.”
Mercer is facing Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau, whom he defeated in 2010. She is a professor of English and film at Texas State University. Bell-Metereau says she is running to try to push back the influence of social conservatives on the state board, including Mercer.
“My top priority is to make it so that the board is well-respected and that they serve a leadership function, instead of being ridiculed and cast aside as a bunch of people who don’t know what they’re talking about,” she said.
Bell-Metereau opposes teaching the weaknesses of evolution and supports age-appropriate, scientifically accurate information on sex ed.
The Libertarian candidate in the race is quantum physicist Mark Loewe. His campaign focuses on two issues. He wants to acquire low-cost math and science textbooks so that children can keep their textbooks permanently, which he says provides major educational benefits. And he supports school vouchers — giving parents the ability to withdraw their child from a public school and receive a government certificate to help pay for tuition at another campus, including a private school.
“Progressive vouchers would empower millions of parents, including poor parents and parents of children with special needs, to reject mediocre schools and choose safe schools that better serve their children’s individual needs, abilities and interests,” Loewe said.
The establishment of a state voucher program would be up to the Legislature.
Loewe agrees with Mercer that children should be taught about the weaknesses of evolution. But he shares Bell-Metereau’s belief that students should learn age-appropriate information about birth control and ways to reduce the risk of sexual activities.
A Green Party candidate in this race, Irene Scharf, did not return requests for an interview and did not provide information on her candidacy. She has no website and appears to have raised no money, although it’s hard to say for sure because she did not file her last two campaign finance reports.
Election Day is tomorrow. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.