The State Board of Education (SBOE) is created by the Texas Constitution to implement a constitutional mandate to maintain a free public education system. Though currently an elected body, the State Board of Education underwent seesaw changes in recent decades. It was originally created as an elected body, but one of several public school reforms passed in 1984 made it an appointed board. In 1987, Texans voted by a wide margin to return to an elected board, though, as with many other positions in Texas government, the Governor appoints a replacement if a seat becomes vacant between elections. The fifteen board members represent districts across the state and serve four-year terms. However, since 1995, the Governor appoints the Commissioner of Education (an administrative post, not a voting member of the board) as well as the board's chairperson. On the Internet, Texas residents can identify the SBOE representative from their district and find information about each board member.
In recent decades, the SBOE has been ground zero for a number of explosive political conflicts over education issues faced by localities and states across the country. Teacher and student testing, charter schools, the equitable distribution of funding and other resources, and the content of school curricula are but a few of the issues that have made the SBOE a political battleground in Texas. These battles were further fueled by the undeniable fact that the public education system in Texas is plagued with problems and consistently ranks behind most of the country in key measures, particularly in poorly funded rural and inner city districts. These conflicts have gained sustained public attention since the early 1990s, when activists and prominent political contributors launched a sustained effort to affect public education by electing religious conservatives to local school boards and the SBOE. In time, these efforts triggered organized responses by progressives, civil libertarians, and teachers' associations in the state. The result has been ongoing conflict over the composition of the SBOE and the policies it implements.
The current education commissioner, appointed by Governor Rick Perry in 2012, is Michael L. Williams. Williams previously served as chair of the Texas Railroad Commission, the first African American in Texas history to hold an executive statewide elected post.