Voters have the chance this week to choose between Democratic candidates Laura Márquez and Melissa N. Ortega for the State Board of Education District 1 seat in the May 24 runoff election.

Early voting in the Democratic primary runoff extends through Friday.

Ortega, who was endorsed by the outgoing incumbent, received 46.1% of the vote in the March 1 primary, while Márquez garnered 35.4%, according to official election results on the Secretary of State’s website.

Omar Yanar, an El Paso charter school operator, received 18.5% of the vote.

The winner of the Democratic runoff election will face Republican Michael “Travis” Stevens in the November election. Stevens, a San Antonio teacher and instructional coach, beat Lani Popp, who also ran in 2020 for the District 5 seat.

Georgina Pérez (D-El Paso) has represented District 1 since 2016 but will step down in December. The district encompasses 30 counties, stretching from El Paso to Laredo to the suburbs of San Antonio.

Pérez endorsed Ortega, an El Paso native who taught middle school before moving to the university level. She now teaches women’s studies and global feminism at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Ortega did not respond to requests for comment.

Márquez, a former special education paraprofessional, received endorsements from state Rep. Mary González (D-Clint) and the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. The El Paso native works for the nonprofit Paso del Norte Children’s Development Center, serving children with disabilities.

Márquez said her background working with students with disabilities in the classroom and in her current position gives her the experience and skills to be able to engage educators, students and parents as a member of the State Board of Education. She said her job on the board would be to listen to her constituents, whether the topic is reviewing proposed charter schools or revising statewide curricula to reflect new laws.

“We’re not there to exercise what we think should be happening and our own expertise. We’re there to really engage with our constituents as the only elected body that’s overseeing our public (education) system,” she said. “The State Board of Education has a real responsibility to the constituency who vote them into this position.”

Beyond the hot topics surrounding public education recently like “critical race theory” and school vouchers, Márquez said she is greatly concerned about students’ social emotional well being in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Our students are traumatized, and our teachers are traumatized,” she said. “Helping them navigate that and heal in relationships with their educators and supported by their community is something that I want to bring a spotlight to on the SBOE.”

State Board of Education members set curriculum standards, review and adopt textbooks, establish graduation requirements and approve or veto proposed charter schools. Currently, the board is made up of nine Republicans and six Democrats, each of whom serves four years and represents 1.9 million Texas residents.

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.