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Update on Mexican-American Studies Course in Texas Public Schools

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News
Supporters of a statewide standard for teaching Mexican-American studies in Texas spoke before a hearing of the State Board of Education on April 8, 2014.

Update: High schools in Texas are one step closer to getting state-funded materials to teach courses in Mexican-American studies after a vote today by the Texas State Board of Education. 

Board members voted to ask publishers to develop textbooks for Mexican-American studies, along with three other social studies courses: African-American, Asian-American and Native-American studies. But the board stopped short of developing a statewide course on the topics. A final vote is scheduled for later this week.

Republican board member Marty Rowley said it's important to study the people of Texas.

"I was persuaded by the testimony yesterday about the importance of understanding our Mexican-American heritage, and I appreciate that," Rowley said. "One of the things I've had a concern about is that there's a number of cultures that make up Texas and Texas citizens, and I think it's important we give a deference to them as well, as local districts determine."

If approved on Friday, the measure would give the more than 1,200 school districts in Texas access to state funding to help with the cost of buying new social studies books, once the materials are developed by publishers and approved by the State Board of Education. 

Original story:

Should Mexican-American studies be offered as a statewide high school elective course in Texas?

That's the question sounded off on today at a State Board of Education hearing. Most speakers favored the idea, saying it's especially important, given that more than half of public school students in Texas are Hispanic. 

Former State Board of Education candidate Lady Theresa Thombs was one of those who spoke in opposition to creating a state-wide standard for that course.

"We here are all Texans regardless of where we all find our heritage from," Thombs said. "So I would suggest to you that we bring this back down to the local control where it belongs, in which each school district meets the needs of those specific students."

School districts can offer Mexican-American studies courses locally. Some have worked with nearby community colleges to develop these classes for high school students.

Activists from across Texas who are here in support say 1,200 school districts in Texas shouldn't have 1,200 versions of math courses, so there's no reason to oppose one statewide curriculum for Mexican-American studies. Activist Tony Diaz said not including a Mexican-American studies course would discriminate against the Hispanic student population.

"We are here to document our history. This is historical because on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we can stamp out the last vestige of the racism it was supposed to discriminate."

The board has 10 Republicans and five Democrats. After today’s public hearing, members will vote preliminarily Wednesday on whether to add this curriculum to the list of courses that would be developed in the future. It’s the first time the state has considered this course.

If approved, Mexican-American studies wouldn’t make it into classrooms until the 2015-16 school year at the earliest. The final vote of the board will take place on Friday.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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