Growing Concern over Texas SBOE Ethics

by Dan Quinn

A major story and two scathing editorials in the last few days show that concerns over possible financial shenanigans and vote-trading on the Texas State Board of Education are growing.

We told you last week about ethics concerns (see here and here) surrounding the state board’s management of the Permanent School Fund. Today the San Antonio Express-News looks closer at concerns over the involvement of San Antonio board member Rick Agosto. And on Friday the Express-News and Dallas Morning News published strong editorials about the issue. Read on.

The Express-News story quotes Republican members of the state board — Pat Hardy of Fort Worth, Bob Craig of Lubbock, and Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas, all traditional conservatives who are not members of the board’s faction of far-right radicals — who are outraged by the emerging scandal. Ms. Hardy was especially frank:

“I have never had anything in my whole life shake my faith worse than this, because (some board colleagues) claim to be such goody two-shoes. We have people on the board who are using that as a conduit to advance themselves.”

Members of the board’s far-right faction, which voted as a bloc to fire the Permanent School Fund’s investment consultant and hire another firm with business ties to Mr. Agosto, are trying to wave away the controversy. Board Chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, is even pooh-poohing the fact that the new firm was — by far — the highest bidder. And board member David Bradley, R-BeaumontBuna — whose central role in the emerging scandal we documented here — claimed the whole thing is “much to do about nothing.”

But maybe the most condescending remark comes from Mr. Agosto when he was asked about concerns by Ms. Hardy and other board members:

“It’s hard for me to take criticism from somebody who doesn’t know the difference between livestock and preferred stock.”

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller expressed to the newspaper our concerns about how the board’s management of the Permanent School Fund is influencing decisions over critical issues like textbooks and curriculum standards:

“We have always wondered why the Democrat from San Antonio was voting with the seven members of the far-right faction of the board. I can’t ascribe motive to Rick Agosto in making those decisions, but I do think those votes raise serious questions.”

Editorials in the San Antonio Express-News and the Dallas Morning News also expressed serious concerns. Money quote from the Morning News:

“(I)f the board can’t better manage its affairs, legislators should take away its financial authority or give parts of it to other boards or agencies. That’s the nuclear option, but it belongs on the table.”

Don’t be surprised if more revelations are forthcoming. As Ms. Hardy said when the board voted on the new investment consultant in July, “I smell a rat.”

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