The 15 members of the State Board of Education set statewide curriculum standards, review and adopt instructional materials, and review proposed awards of new charter schools. District 1 encompasses El Paso and 29 other counties, mostly in West Texas and along the Mexican border. This is an unpaid position.

Who’s running for this seat?

Michael “Travis” Stevens, 41, a Republican, is an educator.

Melissa N. Ortega, 41, a Democrat, is an adjunct faculty member in UTEP’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.

Candidate Questionnaires

Candidates were asked to limit their responses to 100 words. Responses have been lightly edited for grammar.

What qualifies you to serve on the State Board of Education?

Michael “Travis” Stevens: In addition to working as a K-12 educator for the past 11 years, I hold a Masters Degree in Education/Teacher Leadership, a Doctorate Degree in Education/Curriculum and Instruction, and I am a certified Texas Teacher.

Melissa N. Ortega: My years of service as a classroom teacher, district administrator, university instructor, university administrator in education, and board service on a scholarship foundation for underprivileged youth, qualify me to serve on the State Board of Education. I have a master’s degree in education focusing in STEM and a Ph.D. in teaching, learning, and culture. I am a parent of three children that attend the local public ISD and am a product of public school system. I am wholeheartedly an advocate for teachers and the children in the state of Texas.

Texas education leaders say that critical race theory is not taught in K-12 public schools. Do you agree; why or why not?

Michael “Travis” Stevens: It is not accurate to say that CRT is not taught in K-12 public school classrooms. Although the Texas State Legislature passed a bill prohibiting CRT from being taught in the classroom, there have been instances when components of CRT have been taught in Texas classrooms by individual teachers. For example, in January of this year a 5th grade teacher, at an Elementary School in San Antonio, had her students participate in a segregation experiment. This experiment segregated students based on their hair color and included the showing of a graphic documentary. Even though CRT was not explicitly taught by this teacher, components of CRT were still utilized in the lesson.

Melissa N. Ortega: Having extensive and experiential knowledge about K-12 education and in higher education, I can confidently say that critical race theory is a course that is taught in graduate school and not taught in the K-12 setting. This is not a matter of option but a solid fact.

What topics should be part of the Social Studies Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that are currently not?

Michael “Travis” Stevens: Topics focusing on life skills should be incorporated into the financial literacy components of the social Studies TEKS.

Melissa N. Ortega: Social studies TEKS should incorporate diverse perspectives and acknowledge that historical events are affected by race, ethnicity, culture, religion, education, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and personal experiences. An effective history builds on students’ capacity for research, reasoning, generating logical arguments, and critical thinking.

The revised sex education policy the State Board of Education last adopted in 2020 does not cover consent, definitions of gender identity or sexual orientation, or LGBTQ+ topics. Which of these, if any, should be included when the board next revises the Health TEKS?

Michael “Travis” Stevens: The topic of consent needs to be included when the board next revises the Health TEKS.

Melissa N. Ortega: Sex education standards should provide clear, consistent, and direct guidance that is age-appropriate for students in grades K-12 through. The curriculum should be well planned out, evidence-informed, age- appropriate and theory-driven grounded in social justice and equity honoring the diversity of students provided through a comprehensive health education program.

What criteria would you use to evaluate new charter school operators and charter school expansion requests?

Michael “Travis” Stevens: In order to evaluate new charter school operators and charter school expansion requests, I would utilize the following criteria:

  1. Why is this charter school needed?
  2. What population of students does this charter school intend to market to?
  3. How will this charter school impact the public schools in the area?
  4. What is the 5 and 10 year plan of this charter school?
  5. What this the track record of this charter school? (If an expansion school.)
  6. Who will operate the charter school?
  7. How will this charter school benefit the community at large?

Melissa N. Ortega: Public oversight of funds, accountability that is equal to the standards held for public ISD’s, the same academic standards, health and safety rules, and civil rights requirements as our public schools.

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