BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The Texas State Board of Education appointed an advisory committee to create a long-range plan for public education, but a board member said the committee does not accurately reflect the demographic makeup of students in Texas.

The board created an 18-member advisory committee that selected five members from the State Board of Education (SBOE), three agency representatives, and 10 public stakeholders to “establish broad goals for the Texas public school system.”

Ruben Cortez

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Ruben Cortez Jr., District 2 State Board of Education member, said the committee was established to address critical issues in the Texas public school system and to create new educational priorities for the state.

“One of the things we’re working on right now is the long-range plan for public education,” Cortez said. “I don’t know if you recall maybe about a year and a half ago I had approached the board; its one of our obligations to approve a long-range plan for public education in the state and we haven’t approved one since the year 2000.”

Cortez, a Brownsville native, said the biggest growing demographic in the Texas public schools system are Hispanics, an estimated 53 percent of public school population, with Anglo Americans in second, African Americans in third, followed by Asian Americans.

Gonzalo Salazar

He added, the board only appointed one Hispanic member, one of the three people he recommended for the public stakeholder position in the committee.

“Just last week we finalized the committee of 15 representatives that will serve on that committee and they’re going to be traveling the state of Texas gathering data,” Cortez said. “Of that committee, there’s only one Latino appointed member and that’s the one that I appointed.”

Cortez said the 15-member state board also doesn’t accurately represent the demographic makeup of the public school system with only four minority board members, three Hispanic and one African American.

The minority disadvantage in both the SBOE and the new advisory committee can make things difficult to approve, but Cortez says the newly appointed stakeholder, Gonzalo Salazar, superintendent of Los Fresnos ISD, will make his voice heard in the committee.

“So historically it’s a little more difficult for the minorities on the board to get something approved with the majority of the members, but coming from an educator it’s a whole different perspective,” Cortez said. “I think Gonzalo is gonna be a very important voice on this committee and they’re going to be traveling the state of Texas and gathering data and input.”

Cortez believes the lack of diversity in the committee is ‘disappointing,’ but is confident Salazar can make effective change.

“Its disappointing, there’s no doubt, there’s no question its disappointing, but if you know Gonzalo Salazar and you know he was the current president of the RAC, the regional advisory superintendent council for Region One, you’d understand that he’s a very strong willed hyper intelligent superintendent and I guarantee you that regardless of anybody else in that room, he will make his voice heard for our region,” Cortez said.

The committee will consider stakeholder input when creating new educational goals, something Cortez hopes will eventually become policy through the Texas Legislature.

“I don’t know where this will end up, but my hope is that this long-range plan catches the eye of the legislature and at some point; it’s something that they use to convert it into state policy,” Cortez said. “Because this, is in my opinion, its gonna be the stakeholders giving their input.”

The board will begin meetings for the advisory committee in Austin on Sept. 12 and Nov. 6, along with three other dates in 2018. The board will later set up a calendar of travel stops throughout the state for the committee to collect data.

“Gonzalo has a very big task, that’s all I could tell you. He’s got a very big task and I think he’s up for the challenge,” Cortez said.

New Mexican American Textbook

District 2 State Board of Education member and former Brownsville educator Ruben Cortez, said the SBOE plan on deciding on a new Mexican American studies textbook after a previous controversy over the textbook.

“We’ve got a couple meetings coming up, our September-November meeting where we’re going to decide on a new textbook that’s coming out. I know in the past we had this textbook controversy over Mexican American studies. As a result of that we asked publishers to resubmit for consideration.”

Cortez said the author of the new textbook has been a professor of Mexican American studies for many years. He said he is optimistic that the author’s expertise will create an accurate textbook.

“It’s my understand there was one submission only and the author of the book, which I’ve not had an opportunity to see yet, the author of the book is a professor of Mexican American studies. A person with ample knowledge in the area, has been teaching it for a couple decades now and his book will be previewed.”

Cortez said the textbook was reviewed in the summer and there is hope among Mexican American educators that the textbook will accurately depict the challenges and struggles Mexican American have experienced.

“Experts had an opportunity to review it over the summer and we’ll have an opportunity to see some of this information and the validity of this book and we’re hoping that we like what we see and that for the first time in Texas history we can approve Mexican American studies textbook that our kids can use in Texas public schools. Get an understanding of what our heritage has to offer them in terms of understand where Mexican Americans have come through and the challenges and the struggles and at the end of this our hope is students understand that they’re not alone.”

The SBOE will decide on the new textbook in September and November. The board also plans on unveiling an African American studies textbook during that time.