By Hailey Persinger

Killeen Daily Herald

State Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple, opened the floor Monday night to questions from members of Killeen's chapter of the NAACP.

The meeting gave National Association for the Advancement of Colored People members a chance to ask questions and air grievances, many of which concerned the state of public education across Texas.

Phyllis Jones, the chapter's president, expressed her concern over changes to state-mandated curriculum, including consideration by the Texas Education Agency to remove the histories of Cesar Chavez, an activist for Hispanic rights who died in 1993, and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall from textbooks.

Though Sheffield said he feels all history is significant and should be taught to Texas children, he also said the change is reflective of costly problems in state education.

"I don't feel like we need to reprint textbooks every two years," he said. "It's a cost to the state."

Sheffield also blamed expensive school building designs and remodels for budget shortages that forced the elimination of programs vital to the growth of Texas schoolchildren.

"Our education system has been failing some of our kids in recent years," he said.

The freshman representative scheduled the meeting after the spring's legislative session prevented him from appearing at this year's NAACP Freedom Fund banquet in March. The missed opportunity to hear from his constituents compelled him to set the meeting as soon as the session had officially ended. He said that hearing about residents' worries and their suggestions has been his focus since the session ended in June and will continue to fill his time until he begins campaigning for re-election in 2010.

"Now that the session's over, I'm buckled down to do the really hard groundwork to find out what people are really concerned about," he said.

When Rosa Hereford, chairwoman of communications, press and publicity for the chapter, got the call from Sheffield's scheduler about setting up a time to meet with the representative, she jumped at the opportunity to let NAACP members have their voices heard. She said she hopes that if Sheffield is re-elected to a second term as representative, he continues to focus on issues that affect education in fast-growing Bell County, like class size and teacher pay.

"I'm hoping since he's right in the middle of all these ISDs, especially Temple, he'll have an effect," she said. "I have confidence that he will."

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