State Board of Education, district 9 candidates

State Board of Education District 9 member Keven Ellis, left, and challenger Brenda Davis

Keven Ellis said he wants his work on the State Board of Education to be focused on the education of students, not the politics of adults. Brenda Davis said she believes her teaching background makes her a good choice for the board.

East Texas voters in District 9 will decide who they want to represent them on the State Board of Education in the November election.

Keven Ellis

Keven Ellis, who was elected in Nov. 2016 as the District 9 representative of the board, said he wants to continue to help schools in Texas. The district covers 31 Northeast Texas counties, including Panola, Gregg, Harrison, Upshur and Rusk. In September 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Ellis, of Lufkin, as chair of the Texas State Board of Education for a term to expire next year.

Ellis said his priority is what’s best for the children. All three of his children are products of Texas public schools from K-12, he said. Before coming to the State Board of Education, he served on the Lufkin ISD school board from 2012 to 2016, including a term as school board president in 2015 and 2016.

“Our local schools and our local community gave so much to my children that I want to give back, and this is my way of trying to make education better not just for our children but for our children’s children,” he said.

“I truly believe education is a nonpartisan issue, and I will always make decisions with the best interest of our students in mind,” Ellis said. “The SBOE has done a good job in recent years by focusing on the important work that is required of the board.”

Part of that work is streamlining and revising curriculum for English language arts and reading, science, social studies and health. He said the approval of the instructional material for some of those subjects will be due shortly.

“Streamlining of the curriculum standards was needed because there was so much material in a given school year that our great teachers did not have time to teach the topics to a level of mastery and instead had to quickly run through everything,” he said. “The streamlining allows teachers to dive deeper into what is most important for our students.”

Additionally, Ellis said, the board manages the $45 billion Permanent School Fund which helps fund schools in Texas, which he said they will continue to work on to properly manage and maximize distributions to help fund Texas schools.

Ellis said his second most significant accomplishment happened while serving as Vice-Chair of the Texas Public School Finance Commission in 2018.

‘That produced the report that led to the passage of HB3 last year,” he said. “This bill provided much needed funding for our schools and educators, especially in rural East Texas. “

During his time on the board, he said he listened to what teachers in the district wanted, which he said was to streamline the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, he said.

“The TEKS are what each child is expected to learn at each grade level in each subject,” Ellis said. “When too much material is placed in a grade level, it does not give time for the teacher to teach in depth and requires them to rush through important topics. We have worked to streamline social studies, English and science to allow our educators time to go in depth with the important topics.”

Brenda Davis

Davis is a retired English journalism teacher, grandmother of four and mother of two who said she’s just not ready to give up on public education yet.

“People tell me all the time it’s broken,” she said. “No, it’s flawed, but it’s not broken. It’s not beyond redemption. It just needs the right people in there to get it done.”

Davis hopes to get curriculum redesigned and get people ready in case virtual school happens again.

“The State Board of Education dropped the ball a few years ago when we were told straight up front that something like this was going to happen, eventually it was going to happen, and they didn’t do anything to get the teachers ready for it in way of curriculum or anything like that,” Davis said. “So we need to rewrite the curriculum so that virtual school and in person school can kind of coincide so they’re not just opposite ends of the spectrum.”

Davis said she is against all forms of charter schools. If elected, she said the first thing she’s going to do is ask for a moratorium so that Texas won’t get any new charter schools for at least two years.

“I think taking funding away from public schools and putting it in the hands of individuals who have never been in a classroom as an educator is not the answer,” she said.

Davis said if she is elected she hopes to address the needs of all Texas students, regardless of ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender.

“The most important issue facing my district is the failure to address the needs of all our students. The SBOE just this year ignored the needs of our LBGTQ community by refusing to implement policies in the health book revisions addressing these students needs,” she said. ”They ignored gender bias, refused to address consent and added a contraceptive policy but did not address the epidemic rise of STDs among pre-teen and teenage students. We can and should do better.”

The board has the opportunity to change sex education curriculum for the first time in over 20 years; it preliminarily approved some changes to the curriculum. The final vote is set for November.

According to the Texas Tribune, the board voted to teach seventh- and eighth- grade students to “analyze the effectiveness and the risks and failure rates ... of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods in the prevention of STDs, STIs and pregnancy,” in addition to the importance of abstinence.

Currently, learning about birth control methods beyond abstinence is only a requirement in high school, where health education is an optional course.

The board denied proposals to teach middle school students about the importance of consent or teach any students to define gender identity and sexual orientation.

Davis wants to see more changes in sex education curriculum.

“I have said this before and I will keep saying it. Abstinence as the only sex education is not working,” she said. “Pregnancy rates among teens is on the rise. Sexually transmitted infections are rising at an alarming rate. We as educators, parents and legislatures need to wake up and address this problem. It is not going away. Education is the key to stop this.”

Davis plans to advocate for rural schools and not to just stop at the State Board of Education. She said she fully intends on going to every representative in the state of Texas who has anything to do with education and work to get things done.

“I may be 5-foot-2, but I’m gonna make my voice heard down there, and when elected, I’m also going to start interacting with all the school superintendents in my district,” she said. “I have 31 counties in my district, 32,000 square miles, and I want to interact with the major superintendents in each district and let them know what we’re doing... we need transparency.”