A House-passed bill that would give local school districts new authority to pick classroom textbooks cleared a Senate panel Thursday despite concerns that it could lead to faulty teaching materials.
The measure, House Bill 580, was approved by the Senate Education Committee without objection and now moves to the full Senate.
Under current state law, the state’s top school board plays a major role in directing which books are to be used in public elementary and secondary schools.
The bill would change that to a recommendation.
In addition, the bill would lift the current restriction on local districts using state education dollars to buy textbooks not recommended by state educators.
State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe and sponsor of HB580, disputed criticism from some groups that his plan would pave the way for religion to enter science classrooms.
“This is not about any particular textbook,” Hoffmann told the committee.
Ian Binns, an assistant professor at LSU who teaches science education, said Hoffmann’s bill would largely remove the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state Department of Education from the selection of public school textbooks.
Binns questioned whether a world history textbook that labeled Holocaust deniers as legitimate would be permitted as long as it met state content standards.
“Please do what is right and reject House Bill 580,” he said.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, disputed Binns’ comment about Holocaust deniers.
Any such textbook in his Senate district, he said, would quickly trigger a lawsuit.
However, the committee approved an amendment by Nevers designed to give BESE a role in any state review of books purchased by local school districts.
That change also would give Senate and House education committee members a review role.
“I would hope that would take away our concerns,” Nevers said.
The bill is backed by BESE and the state Department of Education.
Erin Bendily, chief of support for the department, said the bill would change BESE’s position from a textbook adoption process to a textbook recommendation process.
Bendily said as long as they meet state content standards “local school districts would be free to purchase any book.”
Hoffmann, who is vice chairman of the House Education Committee, said one of the chief benefits of his bill is that it would transfer textbook purchase powers from state to local educators.
Neither Hoffmann nor Nevers are strangers to textbook controversies.
Both voted “no” in November when a state advisory panel voted 8-4 to endorse a variety of high school science textbooks that came under fire for how they taught evolution.