By: Anette Carlisle
Texas has chosen to abandon our local public schools, locally elected school boards, superintendents and our 5.4 million schoolchildren in favor of a “my way or the highway” single system directive by Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath. That’s why I’m standing up to say, “Whoa! Hold your horses, please, Mr. Commissioner.”
It’s an effort that’s been building for years, right under our noses. People said, “Surely not,” but here we are.
Look back to 2019 and the Center for Reinventing Public Education’s (CRPE) report centered around the System of Great Schools (SGS) concept. The System of Great Schools “starts from the premise that local school districts are ill-positioned to improve schools directly,” and local districts should “get out of the business of managing instruction in schools.”
Morath, according to the CRPE, “prioritized the SGS initiative as a signature project” and even “smoothed the path for the SGS team to work inside the agency” when other TEA staff disapproved.
It’s just one example of the state telling school district leaders to take a hike and locally elected boards to get out of the way.
Earlier this year, The Texas Tribune interviewed Commissioner Morath, and his thoughts on local control came more clearly into focus. Asked about the state’s takeover of Houston ISD, Morath said, “This is basically a grand, philosophical question that is a right for state legislatures around the country to try to answer. Why do we have schools? Do we have schools to teach children, or do we have schools to have elected school boards?”
The takeaway? Local communities don’t know what’s best for kids. The state does.
In 2019, the Texas Education Agency began moving toward commissioner-controlled textbook content (known as the Texas Resource Review) that has to pass a review process outside the voter-elected State Board of Education’s standards and approval of instructional materials. Once again, it’s “the commissioner knows best.”
Then COVID-19 hit, and it was off to the races with a state-mandated, top-down approach to public education.
Quickly, Commissioner Morath established a learn-from-home system that would provide parents and their children with resources outside of their local school districts. The commissioner’s focus on virtual schools subsidizes private vendors and nonprofits. It’s a new twist on vouchers — long rejected by the Texas Legislature — and an attempt to divert funds from Texas public schools and their students.
And then there is FRED, the Free Remote Educational Delivery that is now the TEA At Home Learning Phase III program. FRED is a vendor-based, instructional content system provided as a curriculum option to schools or directly to parents. The program has been procured by the state with no oversight or review by any elected body. A vendor’s dream, I’m hearing FRED is consuming around $90 million of the CARES Act money that could be used for higher-priority projects such as internet connectivity.
Now, just weeks before the new school year begins, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in a letter on July 28, made clear the state doesn’t trust local public health officials to decide if it’s safe for children to enter school buildings. Following quickly behind was an announcement from Commissioner Morath that he was reversing course on school funding for at-home instruction.
Where does this end? When do folks say, “Enough is enough”? Where is the Republican Party that once preached local control as the gospel of governing
Unfortunately, state leaders have shown throughout this crisis: They don’t know best. It’s time for locally elected officials and school leaders to stand up and say, “Hold your horses, Mr. Commissioner. Thanks, but no, thanks. We’ll take it from here.”
This story was originally published by Denton Record-Chronicle.
ANETTE CARLISLE is a passionate education advocate who served 19 years on the Amarillo ISD school board, is in her fifth year on the board of Amarillo College and is the host of the Anette on Education podcast.