A new education commissioner for Texas will be appointed this summer by Governor Rick Perry. The job is likely to be difficult from the outset, given that the unpopular new standardized testing regime has already been suspended this year and funding squabbles have reached a new low with several school districts suing the state. Parents are also understandably upset over budget cuts.
The current commissioner, Robert Scott, announced last week that he will step down on July 2 after five “grueling” years directing the Texas Education Agency. And while he points out that he has served longer than any other commissioner in the last 20 years, observers say it’s no mistake he’s leaving after he called the state’s testing system a perversion of good intentions and apologizing for not getting more money for schools.
The task for the incoming commissioner is not likely to be eased by simply throwing money at problems; Governor Perry is too concerned about fiscal responsibility to pursue that as a ‘solution’. Perry has called for Texas to keep spending and taxation low and this is what has led to the Legislature cutting per student spending by $500 a year. This was a cut of $4 billion in education funding and a cut of $1.4 billion in grant programs. Perry argues that school districts aren’t spending their money wisely and all that’s been trimmed is the unnecessary, unaffordable fat.
“You’ve got people that are in education that say the cuts went too far. You’ve got people outside education that say, ‘Don’t raise my property taxes,’ ” said Beck, who voted in favor of the school finance law authorizing the cuts, which passed the House 80-57. “You can’t just listen to one side of it.”
At the moment speculation is rife over who the Governor will choose — and who would be willing to take a difficult assignment. Many different interest groups have advice for the Governor, with Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business declaring that it’s critically important that the new commissioner be in lockstep with Perry’s own views so they can work together properly and work towards more rigorous standards.
Jenny Caputo, spokeswoman for the Texas Association of School Administrators, hopes Perry will appoint someone who has served as a school district administrator or superintendent.
“There is no way you get around the political component of it, you’re a political appointee,” she said. “But we would hope that the governor would choose someone that would be a champion for public education.”
The lawsuit from school districts representing 60% of Texas pupils argues that the school finance system is unconstitutional. Observers suggest that the complaint is likely to be upheld and the Legislature will have to devise a new system. It should be an interesting first few months for whoever Perry selects as his new education commissioner.