Textbooks bill goes to full House

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A bid to give local school districts more freedom to choose the textbooks they use received the backing Wednesday of the Louisiana House Education Committee without objection.

House Bill 116 by state Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, would establish that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education can’t require local school districts to purchase specific textbooks or instructional materials.

Erin Bendily, assistant superintendent for the Department of Education, said the bill dovetails with the department’s efforts to hold local school leaders accountable for results, without micromanaging them.

“It’s autonomy for the local school systems,” Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann said a state-recommended textbook list still will be developed, and he said he expects 98 percent of books to be taken from that list.

Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, questioned how the state would continue to ensure that schools don’t use textbooks that glorify the Ku Klux Klan or teach inaccurate history, for example.

Bendily said laws require schools to teach to state content standards, and she said schools get judged through student test scores.

Hoffmann unsuccessfully pursued similar legislation two years ago, with critics charging it was a back-door attempt to include creationism in science classes.

Tammy Wood, a science teacher from Zachary, said the current regulations and restrictions governing textbooks were needed to ensure educators and subject matter experts scrutinize the materials introduced to students.

Wood said Hoffmann’s proposal “opens the door for the inclusion of substandard materials to be purchased with unlimited public dollars without appropriate state oversight.”

The proposal heads next to the full Louisiana House for debate.