Give Us ONE Good Reason

Why wouldn’t you want a state entity to operate more efficiently and transparently? That is a question that no one had a good answer for Tuesday evening as the House Committee on Public Education took up HB 862, legislation sponsored by state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, that would place the Texas State Board of Education under periodic “Sunset review.”

HB 862 also has the support of three Republican members of the SBOE (Thomas Ratliff, Bob Craig and Pat Hardy).

For those who are not familiar with it, Sunset refers to the state’s Sunset Advisory Committee, a panel of elected and appointed officials that reviews state agencies and makes recommendations on how an agency can operate more efficiently or, in some cases, be entirely abolished.

Before we go any further, let’s make one thing very clear. Rep. Patrick’s legislation would not — we repeat, would not — allow the Sunset commission to abolish the SBOE. It would only allow Sunset to make recommendations to the Legislature on whether any changes to the SBOE’s authority are needed.

Simple, common-sense legislation, right? Not according to far-right groups like the Liberty Institute (a front operation for Focus on the Family) and the Texas Eagle Forum, both of which would be happy to see the SBOE continue to play political games with public school curricula. Representatives for both groups told the committee that no other elected body is subject to Sunset review and that Sunsetting elected bodies usurps the will of the voters. Wrong on both counts.

The Railroad Commission is an elected body that is subject to Sunset review and, as we pointed out earlier, this legislation would not allow the SBOE to be abolished, thus preserving voters’ right to have their say at the ballot box. But what they’re also not telling you is the very same SBOE has actually undergone a Sunset review back in the mid-90s, and the result was a far more efficient SBOE, according to the TEA website:

Completed in May of 1996, the sunset review of SBOE rules reduced the total number of board rules by 55 percent. Of 373 board rules subject to sunset, 39 percent (144) were readopted, and the remaining 61 percent (229) were repealed or transferred to the commissioner of education. The total number of Texas Education Agency rules, including commissioner rules, fell by 37 percent, from 590 to 374. Just two years earlier, the board had completed a three-year sunset review that resulted in a 50 percent reduction of SBOE rules from 936 to 466. Table 7.1 summarizes the 1995-96 sunset review of SBOE rules.

So again, what’s the problem? Absolutely nothing, unless you’re a far-right group seeking to preserve your role as an enabler for SBOE shenanigans. And if you can’t come up with ANY good reasons NOT to do something, there are probably plenty of good reason for doing it, as TFN President Kathy Miller told the Public Education Committee yesterday:

It surprises me that anyone would object to the idea of a periodic Sunset review for the State Board of Education. Frankly, there has been a great deal of national and statewide attention paid to the State Board in recent years, and allowing a thorough and object review of their processes could do a lot to restore confidence among parents, educators and employers across the state and country.

The legislation was left pending in committee. Click here for a fact sheet on HB 862 and other legislation tracked by TFN during this legislative session.

2 thoughts on “Give Us ONE Good Reason

  1. Yep, authoritarians talk up big the Constitution but to paraphrase Leona Helmsley, “the Constitution is for the little people.”

    Wouldn’t it be great to go through life without any checks and balances, sort of like the SBOE? Wow, I could alienate customers and still get paid and maybe a commission! I wouldn’t have to pay taxes and I could park in handicapped slots. I would be, like, peel me a grape all day long.

  2. Well, as my Uncle Malcolm used to say, “Even executives have a boss they have to report to.” He worked as a manager for many years. The problem with the Texas SBOE is that they have no boss—no truly responsible person they have to report to and justify their actions. Doc Bill is right about that. I feel sure that Gail Lowe would say, “The public is our boss—we report to them.” However, that is really not true. It’s like Hershey’s chocolate saying, “We report to our customers.” No company reports to its customers—and while many would deny it—most of them do not even care about their customers unless it is hurting their bottom lines.

    For example, we stayed at a very well known chain motel recently. I looked up the customer satisfaction reports for the one particular motel we stayed in, and it was obvious from numerous reports that the franchise owner had a regular pattern of cheating customers. Did the chain do anything about it? Not that I could tell!!! The chief complaint was that the hotel chain not only cheated its customers, it absolutely refused to even respond to customer complaints and pleas for a little justice. This is the way the Texas SBOE is operating. It is a chicken coop with no wire fence. The guy that changes the straw and shovels the manure is a fox. Two wolves guard the front door to the coop. Every once in a while a chicken disappears mysteriously, and the wolves tell the remaining chickens that Salvadore Allende must have spirited her away in the night.