The president of the Texas Freedom Network today called on state lawmakers to investigate ethics concerns swirling around the Texas State Board of Education’s management of the Permanent School Fund and to reconsider their failure this spring to let voters decide whether the board should continue to manage the fund.
“Texas parents have a right to know how board members are making decisions about the investment of billions of dollars intended to help educate our schoolchildren,” TFN President Kathy Miller said. “And legislators should assure them that wise decisions about what our children learn in public schools are not being held hostage to vote-trading and other shenanigans involving the Permanent School Fund. The best way to do that is for another agency to manage the fund, a measure the Senate failed to act upon in the last legislative session.”
The Texas House this spring passed a constitutional amendment that would have allowed voters to decide whether to remove authority to manage the fund from the state board and put it instead in the hands of finance experts. The Senate failed to act on the measure.
Miller issued her call for an investigation following continuing news reports about ethics concerns and the state board. The Dallas Morning News on Sunday reported that two board members had failed to disclose gifts from a firm bidding for a real estate investing contract with the board. An Austin American-Statesman editorial today reported that Travis County Attorney David Escamilla’s office is now looking into information from that report. In addition, the Morning News, the Austin American-Statesman and the San Antonio Express-News have reported that Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, failed to tell fellow board members about a business meeting he had with a company – New England Pension Consultants (NEPC) – that eventually won a contract as the board’s investment consultant.
Mr. Agosto has voted with a faction of social conservatives on issues ranging from public school Bible classes to the highly questionable rejection of a mathematics textbook in 2007. One of the members of that faction, board Finance Committee Chairman David Bradley, R-Beaumont, and Agosto championed the hiring of NEPC in July. Bradley, who made the motion to hire NEPC, had received his largest re-election campaign donation in 2008 from a former Agosto colleague and investment consultant who lives in New Hampshire.
“It’s unfortunate that the Texas Senate didn’t follow the House’s lead this spring in removing the board’s authority over the Permanent School Fund and giving that responsibility to finance experts,” Miller said. “Putting decisions about the fund’s investments in the hands of real experts would not just be wise public policy. It would also help ease concerns that curriculum and textbook decisions are subject to the personal agendas of board members.”
The Permanent School Fund is worth nearly $20 billion and pays for textbook purchases for public school students in Texas.