Give Us ONE Good Reason

by Jose Medina

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 Of 373 board rules subject to sunset, 39 percent (144) were readopted, and the remaining 61 percent (229) were repealed or transferred to the commissioner of education.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.