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Texas approves new textbooks after friction over fossil fuels in the US’s biggest oil and gas state

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ education board approved new science textbooks Friday but called on some publishers to remove material that some Republicans criticized as incorrect or negative portrayals of fossil fuels in the U.S.'s biggest oil and gas state.

The vote laid bare divisions on the Texas State Board of Education over how students learn about climate change. In recent years, the panel has faced other heated curriculum battles surrounding how evolution and U.S. history are taught to more than 5 million students.

“The publishers won’t water it down too much because the publishers do want to have scientifically accurate textbooks but they also want to sell them in Texas,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center on Science Education.

Texas has more than 1,000 school districts and none are obligated to use textbooks approved by the board. Still, the endorsements carry weight. Texas’ purchasing power related to textbooks has long raised concerns about the state’s decisions impacting what students learn in other states, although publishers say .

Friday’s vote was to decide which textbooks met standards set in 2021, which describe human factors as contributors to climate change and do not mention creationism as an alternative to evolution. Branch said multiple books complied and followed the consensus of the scientific community.

But some didn’t make the cut. One publisher, Green Ninja, was criticized by some GOP board members over a lesson that asked students to write a pretend story warning family and friends about climate change. In the end, the board voted to reject its textbooks.

Democratic state board member Staci Childs said the publisher had been willing to make their conversations around oil and gas “more balanced and more positive.” But ultimately, the board rejected the textbooks.

“Being a former teacher, having good materials at your fingertips is very important and I think this is an example of it,” Childs said.

Four publishers had books moved to the approved list, some with the conditions that changes be made to the content regarding topics that included energy, fossil fuels and evolution. One biology textbook was approved on the condition that images portraying humans as sharing an ancestry with monkeys be deleted.

Some Republicans on the 15-member board this week waved off current textbook options as too negative toward fossil fuels and failing to include alternatives to evolution. One of Texas’ regulators of the oil and gas industry, Republican Wayne Christian, had urged the board to choose books promoting the importance of fossil fuels for energy promotion.

“America’s future generations don’t need a leftist agenda brainwashing them in the classroom to hate oil and natural gas,” Christian said in a statement following the vote.

Aaron Kinsey, a Republican board member and executive of an oil field services company in West Texas, voted to reject a personal finance textbook because of how it depicted the oil market. He also called a line describing energy conservation as necessary to achieve energy independence a “half truth.”

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that heat-trapping gases released from the combustion of fossil fuels are pushing up global temperatures, upending weather patterns and endangering animal species.

In a letter Thursday, the National Science Teaching Association, which is made up of 35,000 science educators across the U.S., urged the board not to “allow misguided objections to evolution and climate change impede the adoption of science textbooks in Texas.”