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    Little, Kohlmann in runoff for Republican nomination for District 12 SBOE seat

    By Faith Huffman,

    Little, Kohlmann in runoff for Republican nomination for District 12 SBOE seat Image
    • Pam Little, incumbent candidate for State Board of Education, District 12
    • Jamie S. Kohlmann, candidate for State Board of Education, District 12
    Faith Huffman Sat, 05/18/2024 - 06:12 Body

    Hopkins County voters had an opportunity Tuesday evening to hear from the two Republican candidates in a runoff for the District 12 seat on the State Board of Education. The candidates were the featured speakers at May meeting of Bright Star Republican Women.

    Incumbent Pam Little is challenged by Jamie Story Kohlmann in the May 28 Republican runoff for the District 12 SBOE seat.

    District 12 includes Bowie, Collin, Cooke, Delta, Denton, North Central Dallas, Fannin, Grayson, Hopkins, Hunt, Lamar and Red River counties.

    In the March 5 Party Primary, no one candidate receive over 50% of votes. Incumbent Little received 36.38% of votes cast, Kohlmann 27.04%, Chad Green 20.27% and Matt Rostami 16.32%, sending Little and Kohlmann into a runoff for the Republican nomination for the District 12 seat on the Texas State Board of Education. The winner of the runoff will face George King, the sole Democratic candidate to file candidacy in the race; although unopposed for the Democratic nomination, King still receive 50,744 votes in the March Democratic Party Primary.

    Jamie Story Kohlmann, candidate

    Challenger Kohlmann was educated in public schools, is married to a former fighter pilot, and they have three children ages 5-9 who are enrolled in a classical Christian school the model for which she believes should be used in public schools.

    “We are zoned to a C-minus elementary school and we live in a district where way less than half of kids can read or do math on grade level, and where they literally were handling out trans resource guides to elementary school,” Kohlmann said Tuesday evening. “The system I grew up in is fundamentally different from the one of today and I would never have imagined 10-plus years ago that I would feel uncomfortable having my children in that system. So I want to fight for my kids, and more importantly, I want to fight for kids across the state.”

    She said she believes there are three areas of the SBOE that could see improvement: conservatism, vigilance and transparency. She said she began her career 20 years ago Texas Public Policy Foundation.

    Kohlmann said the SBOE may play a good defense, putting out brush fires and as hall monitors, so to speak, but members need to step up and play offense. She believes that the state has failed the 60,000 Texas children on waiting lists to attend charter schools, children in families who wish they had a better educational option for their children to attend. She believes there needs to be more charter schools and that the process to get one going should be much shorter.

    “I think we need consistent conservatives who always err on the side of giving parents more options and more choice rather than less,” Kohlmann.

    She believes the SBOE should fight critical race theory (CRT and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy in public schools by starting at the top and setting a good example of conservatism.

    Kohlmann believes one of the most important jobs of the SBOE is to set curriculum standards in Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. She noted that in 2022, the state was set to rewrite the history textbook standards for curriculum, but it was outsourced to “1,200 bureaucrats” at Texas Education Agency.

    “It said things like the Alamo was fought over slavery. It said that Texas Rangers were a racist and it removed any reference to radical Islamic terrorism, because that could offend certain people,” Kohlmann said.

    While the curriculum submitted for SBOE approval in 2022 was tabled, she said “we cannot let the TEA, this whole process become a train wreck like it did. Kids need better standards today. We can’t keep kicking that can down the road.”

    She said the SBOE members need to be vigilant in guarding curriculum that does not have these issues.

    “We need experts, but we need to put our own people on the working committee, not leftist academics,” Kohlmann said.

    She contends the State Board of Education needs to be more transparent with a website that is more easily navigated for access to information. She said while having live video uploads available online of sessions, you can’t see all members and, thus, viewers can’t always tell who’s voting for what. She would like to see a voting machine added to record all votes cast, which she believes will hold each SBOE member accountable.

    When asked about her two biggest donors and how much they contribute, Kohlmann said she has more than 200 contributors, which “as best I can tell, is more than any State Board of Education candidate has ever had.”

    “Every conservative organization that interviewed both of us, endorsed me. I am proud of my endorsements,” which Kohlmann said span from grassroots candidates to leaders support.

    She said Dick Weekley is her highest donor. He is someone she has known for nearly 20 years, dating back to 2005-2007 when they were working on school choice, but hasn’t been involved in many of his recent work.

    “What Dick Weekley an I to get CRT and DEI out of our public school,” Kohlmann said.

    She sees the support of both Weekley and those who do not seek or receive his contributors or favor as a benefit in helping to bring the fractured sides of a very fractured Republican Party together.

    “While we may not agree on everything, on the area we do agree, we have to work together because the enemy of this case in keeping CRT and DEI out of our schools is not Dick Weekley. The enemy is the left,” Kohlmann said.

    She said Weekley gave to her as a personal gift, not to or for any group.

    When asked her thoughts on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness or STAAR test, Kohlman said no one except the companies creating the test likes the STAAR test.

    “The problem right now is that 19% of our instructional materials in Texas public schools are at grade level. So you can do whatever you want to the test and make it as great and wonderful as possible, but if our instructional materials are still down here,” Kohlmann said pointing downward, “these kids aren’t going to pass the test. And, it’s an almost impossible job for the teacher to try and match up the standards and then these instructional materials, and then what’ s on the test. It’s like three entirely different platforms. We have to better align all of that.”

    Kohlmann said she has about 13 years of policy and professional work expericence, and has tutored in a variety of public school

    Pam Little, incumbent

    Little was elected to the District 12 SBOE seat in 2019, serves as vice chair and is seeking another term. She taught business courses at North Harris County Community College, She is also a mother and grandmother.

    “I don’t want my grandchildren to grow up in a world with a leftist agenda, which is one of the reasons I do what I do in the State Board of Education, ensure that we can keep woke ideologies out of our standards. Now, that’s all I can do out at the Stare Board level is keep it out of the standards. Once it gets to the schools that’s their decision. That’s why we have independent school districts,” Little said. “Now I have intervened sometimes, when a school district is not using the proper phonics program, things like that. So, there have been some instances where I have done things like that.”

    She said one year into her term she drew on her background as an educational publishing executive for Houghton Mifflin Publishers to move the “very leftist set of health standards and move them to the right,” and others to the left using Roberts’ rules of order. Then, she helped tackle instructional materials which she claims “are full of things that we would not want our children to learn.” Consequently, she said she did not vote for any of those instructional materials.

    She said when the Governor insisted SBOE had to approve one of the proposals, she insisted that was not the case because none of them were instructional materials we want in our schools.

    SBOE addressed the matter of TEA outsourcing those working on school curriculum to individuals who are not conservative with a formal rule change, Little said. After TEA chooses its members, SBOE has final approval over those committees.

    “So I really think we are going to have a lot more conservative values on the committees. That was one of the things that we recognized and changed,” Little said. “And with the social studies standards going through the instruction and then to the full board, that didn’t happen. When we write standards, it goes to the committee of the full board only, and the full board will make the [decisions]. The social studies standards were so bad that they could not be amended like they did the health standards.”

    She said the writing committee was given the charge in April, they came back in June, and were told to change them. In August, Little said she made the motion to stop those standards, which would eliminate Texas and US history until middle school.

    “When we made the motion, as I was just reminded in our last meeting, part of the motion was that we would appoint an ad hoc committee to review the frame work on these. So far the past chair and current chair have hesitated to form that committee. If you want to talk about kicking the can down the road, you have to blame the chairs, both chairs of the state Board meetings. They have not formed that committee to do the investigating on the frame work that we need to do,” Little noted.

    She said she and SBOE do work with education experts from conservative organizations, including Texas Public Policy Foundation on science materials.

    “They found quite a bit to review on the science materials. We needed to take those science materials to a more balance approach from renewabled energy to the fossil fuel industry. What was happening is the science materials the publishers were throwing the fossil fuel industry under the bus. We are an energy state. A lot of money that finances public education comes from fossil fuel energy. So we made the publishers change that,” Little noted.

    Overall, the publishers had to make more than 3,000 pages of edits to the science materials. She said when they asked the publisher to change “pregnant person” to a pregnant female or woman, they refused. She was told they were following CDC guidelines. So the board rejected it, which means unless a school goes out on its own to purchase the books with that curriculum, that will not be in Texas classrooms. House BIll 1605, which recently went into effect, gives SBOE a lot more authority over instructional materials, the incumbent District 12 candidate told the small gathering at the Bright Star Republican Women meeting on May 14.

    “With the message we sent we sent to the publishers on the science materials, I firmly believe we are going to see a lot better product come from the publishers. We sent the message we are not going to accept this national version of science and of health and things like that,” Little said.

    She said the building that their offices are located in will over the year be renovated. She has asked that a voting machine be installed, for better transparency.

    “I’m not trying to hide anything. I’ve been accused of sitting behind the pole to vote so that nobody can see me. I sit right beside the chair because I’m the vice chair of the board and in full view of the camera,” Little said.

    Currently, when a vote is taken, everyone raises their hand casting votes for or against a proposal. Two members have to count the raised hands. If they don’t get the same number, the vote has to be re-counted. So, she said she’d very much prefer a voting machine and the transparency in vote it would provide.

    She noted the support she’s received from some well known politicians, as well as local and district officials and others.

    “What’s important to me about endorsements is that they come from people who know you and not because of a political alliance or something like that,” Little noted.

    When asked about the STAAR test, Little said she is very much against it. She’s very much in favor of diagnostic approach: give the students a test in the fall and a summative test at the end of the year, with that growth and learning the measure of accountability for schools.

    “I’m all for accountability, but the way we are doing the STAAR test is just wrong,” Little said, adding that STAAR test does not fall under the SBOE, but under the Commissioner of Education. “I was really excited a couple of sessions ago to redesign the STAAR test. I thought, wonderful, great.”

    However, the commissioner’s idea of redesign is requiring students to take the test all online.

    She said another thing that bothers her is the amount of time students stay glued to their screens. She believes students need to get out of screens and back more to books. She said she thinks the Commissioner of Education has his heart in the right place, wanting students to do better, but he is very technology- oriented. She thinks students need more book time.

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