Just before each legislative session, the Texas State Board of Education votes on a list of education priorities they want state lawmakers to consider. With redistricting and closing a massive budget deficit likely to take up the bulk of the Legislature’s time, one would think that state board members would be careful in choosing their priorities. But as usual with this crew, they weren’t last week.
Board members approved these five priorities on Friday. Most deal with issues like textbook approval and funding. But here’s the fifth:
Amend Texas Education Code Chapter 7.103(c) to clarify eligibility of registered lobbyist doing business with a profession, business or association related to the operation of the Board.
Sounds like a “good government” measure, right? Don’t kid yourself. This is just another example of board members playing politics instead of doing what voters sent them to Austin to do.
What’s up? In the Republican primary last March, Thomas Ratliff defeated Don McLeroy, a member of the board’s far-right faction. That faction has spent the last four years turning just about every curriculum and textbook into a political and “culture war” battleground. Its members and their supporters are unhappy to see McLeroy go.
So now they’re looking for a way to overturn the will of the voters and get Ratliff tossed from office. Ratliff is a registered lobbyist. He’s hardly the first. In any case, here’s what he told the political website Quorum Report (subscription required) last Friday:
“Before this issue was ever raised by the current SBOE, I notified all of my clients that my representation of their interests would not include the State Board of Education. All of my contracts have already been amended to reflect this. There is no gray area on this issue for me. I’m not going to get close to a perceived or actual conflict of interest between my professional life and my elected capacity on the SBOE. . . . It’s unfortunate that the SBOE sent the message to 4.5 million schoolchildren, educators, parents and the Texas Legislature that this issue is in the top 5 issues facing our public schools. This is one of the reasons why I ran on the platform of taking politics out of the state board of education. I look forward to serving on the new board beginning in January and am confident that we can return the focus of the SBOE on the real issues facing our schools.”
Longtime political writer Paul Burka of Texas Monthly calls the measure a “parting shot” by a faction worried about losing power after December:
“Ratliff won his seat by election, not by appointment, and so long as he does not have clients in the education area, and so long as he it is does not lobby the SBOE or the Texas Education Agency, I don’t think that the Legislature is going to pay much attention to recommendation #5. Nor should it.”
We’ve been pointing out for a while now that too many state board members put politics ahead of education. As we can see, they even give petty politics a priority.