Voices Empower

The Chair of the Texas State Board of Education hangs in the balance. Phone calls must be made today!

By Donna Garner

Gail Lowe

The reason the Texas State Board of Education has been able to move forward with the adoption of new-and-improved curriculum standards (English / Language Arts / Reading, Science, Social Studies, and now Math) has been made possible by the person in charge — the chair of the SBOE. That is Gail Lowe.

Gail Lowe has not yet been brought before the Senate Nominations Committee for confirmation. If this does not occur before midnight on Monday, May 30, her term will expire.

Unless Gov. Perry is immediately ready with a new appointee (which would not require Senate confirmation during this session), then Bob Craig would automatically become the new chair since he is presently vice-chair of the SBOE.

Bob Craig is one of the biggest left-leaning Republicans on the SBOE.  He and Thomas Ratliff share a common agenda, and the SBOE would be doomed.  All progress toward authentic academic reform would stop under Bob Craig.

Bob Craig’s agenda is tied to the “education blob,” the progressivists, the constructivists, the whole-language lovers, the leftists, Texas Freedom Network, and those who are satisfied with the miserable status quo in our public schools.

Gail Lowe is respected by both sides of the SBOE aisle. She is fair, treats everyone with respect, is a great communicator, is organized, is logical-minded, knows her Roberts’ Rules of Order, does not fall apart or get flustered in the most emotion-packed meetings, follows through with her responsibilities, and gives wise but knowledgeable statements to the news media.

Gail Lowe and the conservative leaders on the SBOE know Texas schools can do better, and they have adopted new standards with new curriculum and new tests to follow.  These are in the process of being implemented right now, and the future of Texas’ public school children has never looked brighter!

The SBOE’s steady push to put our public school children on the road to education reform would cease if Bob Craig becomes the chair.

Bob Craig is everything that would destroy the good work of the conservative leaders on the SBOE. He is an attorney from Lubbock, and the conservatives in that area know he talks out of both sides of his mouth.

Thomas Ratliff - Registered Lobbyist - SBOE Rep.

It was Bob Craig and Thomas Ratliff who decided to rewrite the Texas Constitution by raiding the Permanent School Fund.  (Please see SBOE Ken Mercer’s article posted further on down the page.)

Bob Craig and Thomas Ratliff have spent a great deal of time in Austin this legislative session, and they have been frequently seen glad-handing with legislators.  It is no coincidence that the SBOE redistricting map drawn up and passed by the legislature gives obvious favoritism to Craig and Ratliff!

We who care about the future of our public school children cannot sit idly by and allow the clock to run out on Gail Lowe.

I am begging you to call each one of the Senate Nominations Committee members today. E-mails probably won’t work because of the shortness of time left for action in the legislature.  Tell each one of them that you absolutely will remember in 2012 what they decide to do on this confirmation of Gail Lowe.

I went to see Sen. Deuell over a month ago and asked him to confirm Gail Lowe.  He mumbled something about “not yet having the votes to confirm her.”  I told him then how critically important Lowe is to have as the chair of the SBOE and that if SBOE members on both sides of the aisle respect her and want her as the chair that the least he, his committee, and the Senate could do was to honor those who work most closely with her.

It also would be a good idea to call Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s office (512 463-0001) because he is the one who nominated Sen. Deuell for this chair.

The Senate Nominations Committee confirms multiple-hundreds of confirmations each session.  Most people’s confirmations do not even require any discussion. The idea that Gail Lowe’s confirmation has been kept sitting on the shelf all this legislative session speaks worlds about the left-leaning agenda that has pervaded this legislative session.

The truth is that the Senate Nominations Committee should be commending Gail Lowe for her excellent leadership of the SBOE — not making her sit there holding her breath and watching the clock all session.

SENATE NOMINATIONS COMMITTEE (*with Young Conservatives of Texas ratings)

Deuell, Chair — 41% — (512) 463-0102

Hegar, Vice-Chair — 67% — 512) 463-0118

Fraser — 82% — 512) 463-0124

Nelson — 78% — (512) 463-0112

Nichols — 63% — (512) 463-0103

Rodriguez — new this session — (512) 463-0129

Mercer Opposes $2 Billion Raid of Children’s Fund!

I strongly disagree with two of my colleagues on the State Board of Education – Bob Craig (R – Lubbock) and freshman Thomas Ratliff (R – Mt. Pleasant) – who led an effort to change the Texas Constitution and take $2 billion away from the principal (e.g., corpus, assets) of the Permanent School Fund (PSF).

Ratliff — believed to be the only elected state official who is also a registered, full-time professional education-related lobbyist to the Texas Legislature — testified before the April 19 Senate Finance Committee on the proposal.  He stated that “we” (meaning the SBOE members) had discussed this item.

As a matter of public record, that proposal to raid the PSF of $2 billion was never posted as an official agenda item for the April 13 – 15, 2011, SBOE meeting; there was no public comment; and it was never publicly discussed or debated by the full membership of the SBOE.  The proposal lobbied to the Senate Finance Committee was an initiative discussed and signed behind closed doors.

I believe the closed-door meeting of SBOE members to discuss the $2 billion raid of the PSF may be a direct violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The PSF is commonly known as the “children’s textbook fund.”  The state’s early-day founders created the endowment to help fund public education; and since 1919, the PSF has been used to ensure that Texas schoolchildren receive free textbooks.

However, because of the economic downturn after the Civil War, the original fund was raided and depleted by the 1865 Legislature.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson reminded the Senate Finance Committee at its April 19, 2011, meeting that in 1876 Texas changed its Constitution to forever protect the children’s textbook fund from any future raids.  That is why the legal term today is the “Permanent” School Fund.

When I took my oath of office as a State Board of Education member, I promised to uphold the Constitution, which demands that the SBOE protect and preserve the PSF for future generations, and use any proceeds to provide free textbooks for our 4.8 million public schoolchildren.

The Texas Constitution provides a key tenet of American exceptionalism:  the separation of powers.  Permanent funds are managed by the executive branch, separate from those who appropriate funds, i.e., the Legislature.  This Constitutional separation should prevent any attempt to raid an endowment fund meant to be permanent.

I firmly agree with Sen. Kevin Eltife (R -Tyler) who correctly painted the PSF proposal as both a “raid “of the children’s fund and “bad public policy”!

In the Senate Finance discussion, Sen. Florence Shapiro (R – Plano) and Sen. Dan Patrick (R – Houston) both correctly noted that such a “one-time” $2 billion proposal would move authority for PSF spending decisions away from the executive branch (the SBOE) to the legislative branch.  That is a bad precedent to set.

Sen. Ed Lucio (D – Brownsville) also expressed a concern that the proposal, if passed, could impact the rating of guaranteed school bonds that are backed by the value of the fund.

Thomas Ratliff, with just three months of SBOE service, concluded his testimony to the Senate by stating, “We could not sit back and not do anything.”  I take exception to Ratliff’s comment.

In 2010, under the leadership of SBOE Chair Gail Lowe (R – Lampasas) and then-PSF Committee Chair David Bradley (R – Beaumont), critical discussions were held with Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Land Commissioner Patterson to help ensure the SBOE could pay out the most PSF funding possible while still being prudent in managing the endowment for the long term.

The results were a payout from earnings, as allowed by the Constitution,  of $1.2 billion for the current budget and another commitment of $1.8 billion for education for the upcoming biennium.  The careful management by the members of the SBOE had resulted in protecting the principal (e.g., corpus, assets) of the fund. This was a major accomplishment by the SBOE.

Next, conservatives on the SBOE joined with Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Republican Congressional delegation to call for a repeal of the federal budget amendment authored by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D – Austin) that withheld $830 million from Texas schools.

Texas now has that $3.0 billion from the PSF payout from earnings plus the $830 million that the Doggett amendment held back from our Texas schools.  This adds up to $3.8 billion in new education funding.  Thomas Ratliff’s public comment to the Senate Finance Committee in which he accused the past SBOE members of sitting back and doing nothing was truly out of line.

The proposal led by Craig and Ratliff to raid $2 billion from the principal of the Permanent School Fund to meet a budget deficit is both bad public policy and bad precedent.  The unprecedented promotion of the idea of robbing $2 billion from the PSF without the issue being posted on the SBOE agenda, without public comment or debate, and without any advice from legal or investment counsel, may be a direct violation of the Open Meetings Act and an unauthorized, if not outright illegal, action.

Ken Mercer (R – Bexar)  is a current Member of the State Board of Education and a former State Representative.  Mercer now represents 1.85 million constituents in twelve counties including Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Comal, Gillespie, Guadalupe, Hays, Kendall, Llano and parts of Bell, Bexar and Travis.

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