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Thomas Ratliff

SBOE rejects that lousy Mexican-American studies textbook

Nice.

The State Board of Education voted 14-0 Wednesday to deny the adoption of a Mexican-American studies textbook decried by opponents as racist and inaccurate.

The textbook, titled “Mexican American Heritage,” was the only submission the board received when it made a 2015 call for textbooks for high school social studies classes, including Mexican-American studies.

But critics say the book is riddled with factual, “interpretive” and “omission” errors and doesn’t meet basic standards for use in classrooms.

Wednesday’s vote wasn’t the last step, as the board will take a final vote Friday. The only board member not present for the vote was David Bradley. In emails obtained through a state open records request by Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning advocacy group, the Beaumont Republican had written that a “lack of quorum on [the book] would be nice. Deny the Hispanics a record vote. The book still fails.”

With as much dignity and gravity as I can muster, I say “Neener neener” to you, David Bradley. It’s what you deserve.

The Chron reports on the hearing at which opponents of the textbook far outnumbered its supporters.

State education board members on Tuesday grilled the publisher of a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook about alleged errors, all but promising to reject the proposed book later this week.

Members of the State Board of Education are poised to vote Friday on whether to adopt “Mexican American Heritage,” a textbook that university professors and historical experts argue is riddled with errors, cherry-picks sources and claims immigrants have radical ideas that pose a cultural and political threat to American society.

“This book offers one thing. It offers hatred. It offers hate toward Mexican-Americans,” said Ruben Cortez Jr., a member from Brownsville.

Board members from both parties spent nearly two hours of a public hearing peppering Momentum Instruction CEO and owner Cynthia Dunbar about reported errors in the proposed textbook.

“You have submitted a textbook that will be rejected” from landing on the state’s preferred textbook list, said board member Erika Beltran, D-Fort Worth, who criticized Dunbar for failing to recall the credentials of the book’s authors. “We’re not just talking about a textbook on Mexican-American heritage, we’re talking about the education of 5 million kids.”

[…]

Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who said in September the book was “dead on arrival,” stressed the board needs to focus on the errors that Dunbar has refused to fix.

“I’m not a scientist, but I know enough to know that communism does not cause natural disasters,” said Ratliff, referring to a passage in the textbook that links the two. Dunbar said the passage was “not a verified factual error,” then later agreed to change the sentence.

Emilio Zamora, a University of Texas at Austin professor who reviewed the text, accused the authors and publisher of arrogance by refusing to acknowledge the problems.

“Not once do they agree with any of our findings of error – not once,” said Zamora, shaking his fist behind a podium before the state board. He and a team of professors reported finding 407 errors in the book’s latest version.

See here and here for some background, and here for the report on how crappy this textbook was that SBOE member Ruben Cortez’s ad hoc committee put together. This issue won’t go away for long. The SBOE will put out another call for a hopefully non-crappy textbook, so there should be more submissions in the future. And just to make this all the more fun, to-be-rejected publisher Dunbar is threatening a lawsuit if she gets rejected, because by God you just don’t do that in Donald Trump’s America. Or something like that. The Trib, the Observer, the Current, the Texas Freedom Network, the DMN, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

Some officials take note of special education funding restrictions

It’s a start.

The vice chairman of the State Board of Education, a Houston school board member, a key state senator and scores of parents and disability advocates all expressed strong opposition on Monday to a Texas Education Agency performance-based monitoring system that has kept thousands of disabled children out of special education since 2004.

[…]

Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican who is the second-highest-ranking member of the State Board of Education, expressed dismay at TEA’s 8.5 percent special education target.

“It looks awfully arbitrary and in no way mirrors reality,” he said. “The concentric circles of damage that this has done I think is immeasurable at this point.”

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, the vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, called the issue an “utmost priority.”

“We have a constitutional duty and a moral obligation to provide all Texas children with the services that are required to ensure that every student can thrive academically,” said Lucio, D-Brownsville, echoing statements made by several of his Democratic colleagues in the Legislature. “By urging schools to limit the number of students they enroll in special education services, our state is turning its back on students that need our help the most.”

[…]

Gene Acuña, a spokesman for the Texas Education Agency, declined further comment. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus also declined comment.

Previously, former Gov. Rick Perry, during whose administration the 8.5 percent enrollment target was first put in place, declined to discuss the monitoring system.

In Washington, a U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman confirmed that her office was ready to take action, if needed, to ensure that children with disabilities get services.

“We are looking into it,” she said.

See here for the background. The headline on the story is “Officials vow to end limits put on special ed”, but let’s be honest. Until at least two of Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Joe Straus make that vow, nothing is going to happen. Those three, as well as Rick “Dancing Terribly With The Stars” Perry, should not be allowed to “no comment” their way out of this for more than a few days, too. I greatly admire what the Chron has done with this story, but they need to call those three’s offices every day until they have some answers. The other news outlets in this state are more than welcome to get in on that action as well. In the meantime, I hope there’s more to report on, and I definitely hope to hear of some followup from the US Department of Education soon.

Trib overview of SBOE races

As always, there’s a lot of action in these low profile races.

Among the contenders in the races to replace Republican Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant and Democrat Martha Dominguez of El Paso is a 68-year-old East Texas retiree who has said that President Obama used to be a prostitute and a 41-year-old self-described “MeXicana Empowerment Specialist” who says the board’s Democrats have sat silent for far too long.

Both Republican Mary Lou Bruner, of Mineola, and Democrat Georgina Cecilia Perez, of El Paso, taught in public schools for years. That’s one of the few things they have in common, along with a clear passion for their respective causes. Observers and political scientists say both women have emerged as strong contenders in their separate races and could easily claim victory in the March 1 primary, an outcome that could mean the return of a more quarrelsome board.

DISTRICT 9

Bruner, who has won endorsements from influential movement conservatives like Cathie Adams and JoAnn Fleming, is one of three Republicans vying for the nomination to replace Ratliff in representing District 9, a 31-county swath that spans the northeast quadrant of the state.

But it’s Bruner’s voluminous Facebook posts, not her endorsements, that have generated the most buzz in the race. A majority of them echo the kind of anti-Muslim, anti-gay or anti-science opinions commonly spouted by members at education board meetings of yore, but observers — and detractors — say she takes it to a whole other level.

“Obama has a soft spot for homosexuals because of the years he spent as a male prostitute in his twenties,” Bruner said last October in a now-deleted post on the wall of her personal Facebook page, where she also has posted campaign materials and solicited votes.

Bruner, who worked for 36 years in East Texas schools as a teacher, counselor and educational diagnostician, said she stands by all her posts but deletes the ones she comes to learn are inaccurate and also publicly apologizes.

“I’m not ashamed of anything that I have ever said,” Bruner said, noting she plans to bring to same zeal to the state board, speaking her mind even if she’s outvoted. “If I’m on the State Board of Education, I’m going to speak up for the things that I believe because I have a First Amendment right.”

The Tribune could not, however, locate a public apology for that post on Obama, which Bruner has since deleted from her Facebook page. Asked specifically about the post and whether she still believes the president used to be a gay prostitute, Bruner said: “You are obviously a hostile and biased reporter pretending to be a friendly reporter to gain my confidence. The interview is over.”

[…]

DISTRICT 1

Much like Bruner, Perez, a 41-year-old mother of four, also vows to bring “a very strong voice” to Austin. The former 8th grade language arts teacher contends the board’s five Democrats are “far too silent most of the time” — often sidelined as the board’s moderate and social conservatives dominate the debate.

Perez, who retired from teaching a year ago and now is seeking a doctorate in education at the University of Texas at El Paso, targets the education panels’ far-right Republicans prominently on her website.

“The SBOE is an important entity that has been hijacked by extremists that are more concerned with advancing an ultra-conservative agenda and rewriting textbooks than they have been overseeing the education of Texas youth,” reads a quote on the homepage.

But Perez, who has won endorsements from fellow El Paso Democrats Sen. José Rodriguez and Rep. Mary González, also dismisses any concerns that she might not play well with others. She points to her work last year crafting a proclamation that the education board ended up approving in a 12-2 vote supporting the implementation of ethnic studies courses.

“It was my presentation and my research and my testimony that brought them on board with how this closes the achievement gap,” Perez said. “In the past, the SBOE has been known for, perhaps, uncivil discourse, but that has not been my experience up there.”

Bruner of course has drawn national attention for her repugnant statements; as is usually the case, the Texas Freedom Network is your best source of information for this brand of crazy. She’s very much the face of the Texas Republican Party these days. She has a sane, Ratliff-esque opponent in Keven Ellis, and I suppose the question is whether the people that elected Don McLeroy or the people that ousted him in favor of Thomas Ratliff will show up for that race. Lord knows, the state GOP deserves her, but the schoolchildren of Texas do not.

As for Georgina Perez, it’s lazy and irresponsible of the Trib to draw a parallel between her and Bruner, even of the rest of their writing makes it clear that outside of a willingness to mix it up the two are completely different. One of these two will be a laughingstock, and it ain’t Georgina Perez. One of her opponents is a recipient of money from the astroturf group Texans for Education Reform, so I’ll be rooting for Ms. Perez on March 1.

And there’s also our local race:

DISTRICT 6

[…]

Two of the Democrats seeking the District 6 nomination — Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter — criticized [incumbent Donna] Bahorich, as well as each other, for lack of experience and predicted their own passionate campaigning will push them to victory.

Carter, 28, is a child and adolescent psychiatry resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston who said he is “the only person running in the primary or the general election who understands how kids develop, at what ages they should be learning different subjects.”

The Panhandle native expects to receive his doctorate in education next year from the University of Houston, with a focus on curriculum instruction and leadership.

Jenkins, 32, also has a doctorate in education but says her experience teaching bilingual 4th grade in the Houston area for two years may be more important to voters.

“Being well educated doesn’t make someone an educator,” said Jenkins, who now is the manager of community-based initiatives at Advantage Testing of Houston.

“I hope that people will really recognize that and put these decisions in the hands of experienced educators.”

I interviewed Dakota Carter, and apparently got door-knocked by Jasmine Jenkins, but wasn’t home for it. Either one would be fine by me (there’s a third candidate who’s been invisible so far), but Bahorich got 57.1% in 2012, which was enough to win by over 100,000 votes. I’ll be happy if we can know that down a point or two – for sure, if we do, we’ve probably done pretty well countywide, too.

Our stupid social studies

Unbelievable, except that it totally is believable.

The publisher of one of Texas’ controversial social studies textbooks has agreed to change a caption that describes African slaves as immigrant “workers” after a Houston-area mom’s social media complaints went viral over the weekend.

On Wednesday, Roni Dean-Burren of Pearland posted a screen shot on Facebook of a text message exchange with her son who sent her a photo of an infographic in his McGraw-Hill Word Geography textbook.

“The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations,” a caption on the infographic read.

“We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” Dean-Burren replied, including an irked emoji. The next day, she posted a video showing more of the textbook. It has since garnered more than 1.7 million views.

“It is now considered immigration,” the mother says of slavery in the video, noting that the section in her son’s textbook titled “Patterns of Immigration” describes “indentured servants who worked for little or no pay” but fails to describe the similar, if far worse, circumstances for slaves.

The next day, publishing giant McGraw-Hill said in a Facebook post it had “conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.”

“We believe we can do better,” the publisher continued. “To communicate these facts more clearly, we will update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor.”

The changes will be made to the digital version of the textbook immediately, the publisher said, and in the print version during its next run.

[…]

“We are encouraged that the publisher is correcting this passage downplaying the history of slavery in the United States. But it’s no accident that this happened in Texas,” said Kathy Miller, the president of one of those groups, the Texas Freedom Network. “We have a textbook adoption process that’s so politicized and so flawed that it’s become almost a punch line for comedians. The truth is that too many elected officials who oversee that process are less interested in accurate, fact-based textbooks than they are in promoting their own political views in our kids’ classrooms.”

Thomas Ratliff, a Republican board member from Mount Pleasant who has defended the textbooks, described the caption as “an isolated incident” while noting that the 2010 curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, inspired him to run for the board because “they did go too far on some political issues.”

“But I don’t think that’s what caused this specific poor word choice,” he said, praising Dean-Burren for being proactive. “One of the biggest challenges we face in public education is parents who don’t care.”

With all due respect to Thomas Ratliff, the proximate cause is a State Board of Ed and a Legislature that seeks advice from professional liars like David Barton. People with an ideological ax to grind have long meddled in the affairs of school boards and textbook publishers, and craziness like this is the natural result. I absolutely agree that more involvement from people who would like to see more objectivity and accuracy in school curricula and textbooks is vital, though as recent polling has shown there’s a disconnect between what the people will say and what the Legislature will do. It’s still necessary. Daily Kos, Think Progress, the Chron, the Press, BOR, the Observer, and TFN Insider have more.

Maybe Ratliff won’t step down from the SBOE after all

Just when he thought he was out, they (might) pull him back in.

Thomas Ratliff

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed a social conservative and former staffer for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to chair the Texas State Board of Education on Thursday.

Donna Bahorich will lead the 15-member board, whose duties include setting curriculum standards and approving the textbooks used by the state’s more than five million schoolchildren.

Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, has served on the board since January 2013. She sat on the Committee on School Initiatives, which oversees issues related to charter schools, the Board for Educator Certification rules and the appointment of school board members for districts located on military bases. She is also a member of the board’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education.

As chairwoman, Bahorich will set the agenda for the state education board’s meetings, which occur five to six times a year.

Bahorich, who usually votes with the board’s social conservative bloc, has close ties to Patrick. She was his campaign manager during his first run for the state senate seat in 2006. After that, she served on Patrick’s staff in varying roles including district director, campaign treasurer and communications director.

Board member Thomas Ratliff, a governmental relations consultant and lobbyist from Mount Pleasant, said he was disappointed to hear of Bahorich’s appointment. Ratliff said he believes she does not have enough experience with public schools to qualify her for the job.

“She’s a nice lady and a hard worker and I think her heart’s in the right place,” Ratliff said. “I just think it ought to be a fundamental requirement on the state board for someone to have had kids in public school.”

Ratliff said he’s now rethinking his decision to leave the board when his current term expires in 2017.

“That’s no longer a guarantee that my days on the board are done,” he said. “I may have more work to do.”

See here for the background on Ratliff. Whether he decides to run for re-election to the SBOE or takes a crack at Kevin Eltife’s Senate seat, either would be fine by me. I hope this is for real and not just a tease.

As for Bahorich, she’s hardly the person I’d want chairing the SBOE, but the bar for “could be worse” with this group is pretty damn low. Not being a McLeroy-esque catastrophe counts as a job well done. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

Eltife not running for re-election

He will be missed.

Sen. Kevin Eltife

After 23 years in elected office, state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said he will not run for re-election in 2016 to devote more time to family, friends, his work and his community.

Eltife said he’s loved every minute of his service in the Senate and is proud to have worked with fellow Senators and their staffs. But he said he did not want to hold a title or office without being 1,000 percent committed to the job and fighting for Senate District 1.

“After 23 years, I have to honestly say I need to take a step back, spend more time with my family and friends and recharge my batteries,” Eltife said during an Editorial Board meeting with the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “I will continue to be involved and volunteer at the local and state level to try to help others.”

Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, are hard-working, well-intentioned people who sacrifice time from their families and lives to try to make Texans’ lives better, he said.

“I’m going to stay plugged in,” he said. “I want to make sure northeast Texas voices are heard, and I don’t have to be in public office to do that.”

[…]

Eltife said when he arrived his primary focus in Austin was killing bad legislation that preserved local control. But he proved effective navigating bills and lending helping hands to other legislators.

He was instrumental in the creation of a pharmacy school and doctorate nursing program at the University of Texas at Tyler, expansion of craft beer brewers’ access to the market and, most recently, pass of a bill to give epileptics in Texas access to cannabis-based oils.

Those and other bills made a difference for his district, the state and Texans, he said.

Eltife said hearing the testimony from families of suffering epileptic children motivated him to pass the bill they saw as their only hope.

Eltife’s drive to make a difference many times has left him as a lone wolf legislator.

Eltife has been watching, not so quietly, as the state’s debt more than doubled since he arrived in Austin to about $46 billion from $17 billion.

The state used debt to fund road projects and meet needs he said could have been funded if legislators had been honest with Texans and used their political capital to make tough decisions.

Eltife said doing the right thing can mean going against the party line. He’s worked with both sides of the isle to move legislation he felt would benefit his district and the state.

Sen. Elife also spent a lot of time presiding over the Senate in the latter years of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s tenure. By all accounts, the chamber ran a lot more smoothly with him wielding the gavel in Dew’s absence. The Trib adds on.

Several Republicans have already been mentioned as potential candidates for Eltife’s seat.

State Rep. David Simpson of Longview will announce later this month that he is launching a bid for the job.

“Advancing liberty and promoting prosperity in Texas will take conservative leaders who are ready to tell the truth,” Simpson said in a Sunday statement. “We are excited to announce our campaign for Senate District 1 and intend to officially launch our efforts on June 22.”

Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, who was waiting to see whether Eltife would run for re-election, is also considered a likely contender for the post. Thomas Ratliff, the outgoing vice chairman of the State Board of Education, has said he would not rule out a run for the seat if Eltife gave it up. And Dennis Golden, a Carthage optometrist, has said he intends to run.

Eltife has often been a swing vote in a Texas Senate dominated by Republicans but governed by rules that give political minorities more power than their numbers would suggest. It takes consent from 60 percent of the state’s 31 senators to bring most proposals up for debate; issues that can only attract small majorities often languish as a result. And Eltife has found himself in the position of holding such proposals hostage more than once.

He was a rare Republican vote against repeal of the Texas Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrants who graduate from Texas high schools and who have lived here for more than three years to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities. That repeal never made it to the full Senate. He opposed so-called sanctuary cities legislation that would require local police to enforce federal immigration laws. And he was a no vote on one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s pet bills, which would have allowed businesses to direct their taxes to scholarship funds for private school students.

Early in the legislative session that ended June 1, Eltife tried to tap the brakes on what he called “a bidding war” between the House and Senate over tax cuts, insisting that lawmakers should be using surplus funds for deferred maintenance, debt reduction and the like. The tax cuts went through, but so did some of what he had pushed for. By the end of the session, he declared himself satisfied with that partial victory.

This is a deep red district (Romney 72.1% in 2012), so it’s all a matter of the Republican primary. Thomas Ratliff would be fine if he ran. David Simpson is an odd duck, a teabagger but not quite cut from the same cloth as the rest of them. He’s just unpredictable enough to at least be a pain in Dan Patrick’s rear end on a regular basis. Bryan Hughes would be bad, and I can’t imagine anyone else would be any better. We’ll just have to see how it shakes out. The one thing I do expect is for there to be a lot of money spent on that campaign, mostly by outside groups. Good luck and best wishes for the next stage of your life, Sen. Eltife. Trail Blazers and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Fraser and Ratliff to step down

There’s good news:

Sen. Troy Fraser

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, announced Tuesday that he is not running for re-election, ending a tenure at the Capitol that has spanned four decades.

“There comes a time when leaders must take a look at the trail they have blazed and reflect on all they have done,” Fraser wrote in a letter to colleagues and friends. “There also comes a time when leaders must allow others the opportunity to leave their mark. Today marks that time for me.”

Fraser, who chaired the Natural Resources Committee this past session, was the seventh-most senior member of the Senate, having taken office in January 1997. From 1988 to 1993, he served in the House.

[…]

He said his “proudest accomplishment” was passing Texas’ voter ID law in 2011, considered the toughest in the nation. A legal challenge to the statute is still working its way through federal courts.

That last paragraph sums up why this is good news, as Fraser had his fingerprints on a ton of bad legislation, with not much good to balance it out. The district is solidly Republican – as Greg commented, it envelops all of Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s House district – but Fraser is bad enough to have some hope that whoever replaces him might be at least a little better. No guarantees of course – it can always be worse, and it’s never comfortable having to hope for a good outcome in a Republican primary – but there is plenty of room to go up.

And there’s bad news:

Thomas Ratliff

State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff has decided not to seek another term on the board next year, saying he has accomplished most of his goals. Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who has been on the board since 2011, has generally received high marks during his tenure.

Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, made news back in 2010 when he upset former board Chairman Don McLeroy of College Station in the GOP primary that year. McLeroy was the leader of the social conservative bloc on the education board and drew national attention for his efforts to limit coverage of evolution in science textbooks.

When he ran for the seat, which now represents northeast Texas, Ratliff said he wanted to reduce the influence of partisan politics on the board and improve the strained relationship between the board and the Legislature. At the time, there was support among lawmakers for scaling back the authority of the board.

“I feel these goals have been largely accomplished through a combination of my efforts, the efforts of several of my colleagues and voters across the state,” he said, adding he will serve out the final year and a half of his current term.

Being the candidate who sent the infamous Do McLeroy back to private life, Ratliff is Exhibit A for “best possible outcome in a GOP primary in deep red turf”. We can only hope that his successor is like him and not like the man he ousted.

Finally, some poignant news:

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

One of the best speeches of this year’s legislative session also was one of the more difficult to watch.

It came in the closing days as the House OK’d a bill addressing one of the Great State of Texas’ greatest disgraces. HB 48, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed Monday, sets up a state panel to figure out how wrongful convictions happen and how to avoid them. All together now: “About time.”

Approval culminated a persistent battle by a lawmaker now fighting a personal one – one that reminds us of the better side of our lawmakers. The more shrill partisans among us could learn something from the friendships and respect that develops when 182 people of varying philosophies and backgrounds spend 140 days in relatively close quarters at the Capitol in odd-numbered years.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, was helped to the front microphone Thursday to move final approval of her HB 48. A cancer survivor, McClendon now is struggling with health issues that have affected her mobility and speech. In December, she underwent surgery to remove water from her brain.

Supported on her left by Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, and her right by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, McClendon needed help to get the bill across the finish line.

“You move to concur in Senate amendments,” Bonnen said quietly into her ear, followed by an awkward pause as the House waited for McClendon to form the words.

“You can do it,” Bonnen told McClendon. “We got you.”

They did, literally.

“You’re going to say, ‘Members, I move to concur,'” Sheffield told McClendon.

“Members,” McClendon, surrounded by supportive colleagues, said slowly, “I move to concur with Senate amendments.”

The voting bell rang. Bonnen again assured McClendon, “We got you,” and HB 48 was approved, to applause, by a 137-5 margin.

His right arm around McClendon, co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, called the vote “a tremendous victory for this House, for the Legislature and for this lady right here whom all of us know and love.”

“This is a wonderful, wonderful lady and many, many lives are going to be saved and changed because of her work on this issue,” said Leach, adding that serving with McClendon, with whom he shares little political common ground, “has been the honor of a lifetime.”

McClendon then spoke about this legislation in particular and legislative life in general.

“I just want to briefly say that I appreciate those who stuck with me,” she said slowly as a legislative battle she began seven years ago headed to successful conclusion. “Some said it wasn’t going to work, that we couldn’t do it.”

I knew Rep. McClendon had been ill for some time, but I hadn’t realized just how tough for her this session must have been. I don’t know if her health will impel her to step down or not, but if it does, she finished her career on a high note with the passage of innocence commission bill. That bill should have rightfully passed in 2013, but it was derailed by the egotistical gamesmanship of Sen. Joan Huffman. Thankfully, Sen. Huffman managed to put a lid on it this time.

I’ve seen a few snarky Facebook posts since sine die by folks who are playing at the “disaffected cool kid who’s just so over all this stuff” thing. I get the frustration – it’s definitely been a rough 12 months, with less reason to feel optimistic about the near term political future around here – and Lord knows I’m not above cynicism. Dems did their share of puzzling and dispiriting things this session, most notably on the Denton anti-fracking ban bill. But it’s people like Rep. McClendon and what they are able to accomplish out of the spotlight and against sizable obstacles, that are what it’s about to me. I think we lose something fundamental if we lose sight of that. I know it’s hard having to play defense all the time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still chances to move the ball forward here and there. Thank you, Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, for all you do.

SBOE defers new textbook decision

They’re funny even when they’re not trying to be.

After an afternoon spent wrangling over the proper definition of jihad and the influence of Moses on the Founding Fathers, it was Common Core that ultimately derailed the State Board of Education’s initial vote on giving a stamp of approval to new social studies textbooks Tuesday.

An initiative spawned by the National Governor’s Association to set uniform academic standards across U.S. public schools, Common Core has become a frequent punching bag for conservative activists who believe it injects liberal bias into the classroom.

Its specter first emerged Tuesday when one of the more than 20 witnesses testifying at the meeting alerted board members that supplementary materials on the website of Cengage Learning, publisher of a sixth grade social studies textbook, mention the national standards.

“I don’t know how this book even got past anybody,” said Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican. “I’m not voting for anything that says common core, I can assure you of that.”

Until the last hour of the meeting, it appeared the 15-member board would grant preliminary approval for instructional materials from all publishers except Cengage. Then, some board members balked at that, worried that with changes from publishers still coming in, they would be voting on content without a chance to review it.

With four Republicans abstaining and all five Democrats voting against approval, the motion for preliminary approval failed — leaving only a final vote Friday.

The board is considering 96 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas classrooms next fall, the culmination of a public review that began this summer.

Throughout the approval process, publishers have faced criticism from groups across the political spectrum for perceived flaws in how books handle topics like climate change, Islam, and the role Christianity played in the American Revolution. The process itself, which allows publishers to make changes in response to public input up until the day of the final vote, has also raised concern.

“Some of it’s some personality, it’s some process. But this process is jacked up when we make decisions at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night for 5 million kids.” said Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican, after the vote. “We’re getting stuff still coming in and being asked to vote on it.”

You can say that again. The Chron story on the SBOE meeting and its lack of approval is here. Naturally, following the sustained grassroots movement that led to a victory for common sense on climate change, Tuesday’s hearing was partly hijacked by a group of wingnuts called the Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition that submitted – in late October – a 469-page report detailing 1500 “errors” in textbooks. I’m sure the Board gave it the attention it deserved. Anyway, they’ll try again today. I’m not even sure what I’m rooting for at this point. Newsdesk, K12 Zone, Unfair Park, and TFN Insider, whose liveblog of the hearing will be the most comprehensive thing you read about it, has more.

Ratliff and Patrick spar over CSCOPE

Sounds like fun.

The state curriculum system known as CSCOPE — little known until recently — can now add two hours of lively and at times testy debate to a long list of public appearances that includes State Board of Education meetings, legislative hearings and the Glenn Beck Show.

On Saturday evening, SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, the chairman of the Senate’s education committee, sparred over the controversial lesson plans before a vocal audience that filled the University of Texas at Tyler’s student activity center. Grassroots activists have relentlessly pushed to eliminate the lessons, which are used by 70 percent of Texas school districts, because of a perceived liberal, anti-American agenda.

The unusual event — a public debate between two elected officials of the same party who are not primary opponents — came about after Ratliff accepted an offer from Patrick, who said on his Facebook page that he would debate any CSCOPE defender.

Patrick, who has led the charge against the lessons, focused his arguments on the lack of transparency behind the operations of the state education centers that produced them.

“The thing that we are missing here is that there seems to be this fight and sometimes attack against parents who have a right to ask a question,” he said. “I don’t understand this ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ CSCOPE mentality that we don’t care if there is anything wrong with CSCOPE — we just want our CSCOPE.”

Ratliff, whose district is filled with small, rural schools that have depended on CSCOPE’s lesson plans, has championed the right of local school boards to choose how best to teach state curriculum.

“Local districts ought to be able to make that decision for themselves, not have you make it for them,” he told Patrick at one point during the debate.

Yes, well, “local control” is only a good thing when the locals are doing what you want them to be doing, right? The Observer also covered this, and from their account it sounds like Ratliff got the better of the exchange.

Ratliff credited Patrick with helping to force CSCOPE’s lesson plans—which were once proprietary documents only available to subscribers—out into the public domain. Now they’re available online.

But Patrick wasn’t satisfied. “You should be concerned that, for six years, CSCOPE was violating the law,” Patrick said. “We cannot turn a blind eye and say ‘It’s alright. We take public taxpayer money, form a private company, we don’t have an address, we don’t have anything.’ You couldn’t find someone who worked at CSCOPE. It didn’t exist,” he said. “It did not exist.”

Patrick stoked vague fears about what more CSCOPE could be hiding. “What don’t we know?” he repeated.

To many of Patrick’s accusations, though, Ratliff had an answer. When Patrick said that the Texas Tribune conducted a study finding that children in CSCOPE schools performed poorly, Ratliff countered that the “study” was actually conducted by a 9th-grade business class using the Tribune’s online data.

“He’s pointing to a 9th-grade spreadsheet. I’m pointing to an email from a superintendent right here in Tyler; the superintendent in Llano that just defended himself against a frivolous lawsuit; and two doctoral theses: one done by a private Christian university known as Baylor University, the other done at Texas Tech University,” Ratliff responded. “The facts are clear, and if you look at the facts, CSCOPE does not impair, but it enhances student performance.”

[…]

Patrick chided Ratliff Saturday night for never having reviewed more than a few of CSCOPE’s lesson plans. But when Ratliff asked Patrick how many he’d read, Patrick said he hadn’t read any. It was a surprising moment, highlighting just how far the politics of CSCOPE are removed from its use in the classroom.

After the debate, Patrick said that Ratliff “made some valid points,” but could not remember any of them specifically. “Overall, he could not answer any of the questions that I put forward,” Patrick said. “I was surprised that the educators were cheering on something that they don’t know a lot about, and that they’re not concerned.”

Ratliff said he was confused by Patrick’s persistence in going after the curriculum. “If the issue was transparency, mission accomplished. But he’s not stopping. And the non-CSCOPE schools are next, because as soon as the Tea Party finds something in their curriculum they don’t like, they’re going after them,” Ratliff said.

He said he was disappointed by the political antics Patrick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have used to prolong the CSCOPE controversy. “What this has become is a tug-of-war between two guys who want to be Lieutenant Governor,” Ratliff said. “And they’re using public schools as the rope.”

Well, it is primary season, and like some other candidates that don’t have anything substantive to say, Dan Patrick needs to remind the seething masses of the GOP electorate that he’s One Of Them. Be that as it may, I like that Ratliff and Patrick did this, and frankly I wish debates like this would happen more often. The nature of a debate like this, between two people who aren’t running against each other for something, makes it more focused and less prone to talking point responses.

CSCOPE still in scope

Every once in awhile, whether they intend to or not, the SBOE does something worthwhile.

Thomas Ratliff

The State Board of Education concluded its July meeting without providing further guidance as to whether Texas school districts continued to use lessons from CSCOPE, the controversial state-developed curriculum system.

“It’s not up to the state board,” chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said after the meeting. “I don’t know who it is up to, but it’s not up to us.”

Though she added that legislators are the ones who need to clarify whether districts can still use CSCOPE lesson plans, which are now in public domain, Cargill said the board will discuss CSCOPE at its Sept. 18 meeting.

Meanwhile, the Texas Attorney General’s office, along with Education Chairman Dan Patrick, has requested an official state audit of the program.

“After months of research, once again with the tireless help of the grassroots, it appears that CSCOPE may have spent millions of dollars outside of normal government rules and regulations,” said Patrick in a post on his Facebook page Friday.

Patrick also said in that post that he disagreed with the conclusion that, since CSCOPE material is now in the public domain, districts could continued to use it. He said he would check into it further.

After the Friday meeting, board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, issued a release praising Cargill for placing CSCOPE on the September agenda.

“This artificial controversy has gone on too long without someone at the state level taking charge and performing a review of these lessons and separating myth from reality and education from politics,” he said.

Ratliff and Patrick have been slugging it out over CSCOPE for some time now. I think it’s safe to say there’s no love lost there. I didn’t follow this closely during the session, but from what I can see Ratliff is in the right. If the SBOE does review this in September, it will be a good thing. However, Dan Patrick will not give up.

An extended drama over a controversial curriculum tool used by Texas public schools took a new turn Wednesday as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst entered the fray with a letter to the State Board of Education and a key state senator pushed to add the issue to the special session agenda.

“We were all told that our CSCOPE problems were behind us,” Dewhurst said in the letter. “Over the past few weeks I have learned this could not be further from the truth.”

The statement could be interpreted as swipe at Patrick, one of Dewhurst’s 2014 Republican primary opponents. Near the end of the recently concluded regular session, Patrick declared the “end of an era” for the CSCOPE lessons, which grassroots activists have relentlessly pushed to eliminate because of a perceived liberal, anti-American agenda. At the time, Patrick, R-Houston, announced that the coalition of state-run education service centers that develops the lessons had agreed to stop producing them.

[…]

In his letter to the state board, Dewhurst joined those expressing their dismay, saying he was “deeply troubled” that the state’s public schools may continue to use the lessons. The board is already set to address confusion over CSCOPE at a Sept. 18 meeting, but in the letter, Dewhurst urged the board to hold a hearing sooner so that it could help districts find ways to avoid using the lessons or to “at least provide transparency for parents and local voters to know what their local districts are using to educate their children.”

Patrick responded late Wednesday afternoon with a press release asking Gov. Rick Perry to add legislation banning the use of CSCOPE lessons to the special session agenda. In the release, Patrick said he also thought the issue had been resolved.

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry, said in a statement that it was “premature to talk about adding to the call” until the Legislature finished its current business.

Did we mention that there might be a third special session because the conference committee remains at loggerheads over how to pay for transportation funding? So adding yet another wingnut issue to the endless legislative summer is not out of the question. Burka has more.

Patrick versus Ratliff

TFN Insider:

Texas State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, has already made clear his disgust over the political witch hunt that forced the state’s Education Service Centers to stop writing lesson plans in their CSCOPE curriculum management system. In May, for example, he tore into Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, for his role in those attacks on CSCOPE, which hundreds of Texas school districts have been using. Now Ratliff has written another scathing piece, this time about Patrick’s efforts to bully and harass teachers into not using CSCOPE lessons that have already been created.

This is a “must read.” Ratliff isn’t pulling any punches. (Links, italics, boldface and underlining in original.)

Go click over and read. To say the least, Ratliff isn’t kidding around. As for Dan Patrick, he’s now best buddies with John Carona and Tommy Williams in addition to Ratliff. One more like that and I believe he gets to be promoted to “arch-nemesis”. On a slightly more serious note, if you go back and watch that Trib video discussion of the Texas Monthly Ten Best/Ten Worst list, this is why Patrick landed on the Worst list despite an objectively impressive array of legislative accomplishments. He was able to get stuff done, but alienated a lot of people along the way. The TM criteria for inclusion on these lists is certainly open to debate, but if you accept their premise then the conclusion readily follows. TFN Insider link via Hair Balls.

Some sanity on STAAR

This is a welcome development.

A requirement that the state exams count toward 15 percent of a student’s course grade sparked a backlash last spring over the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, among parents whose ninth-graders were the first to take the more rigorous exams. A statewide parent group emerged out of the controversy and is calling for major changes to the testing system.

In a nod to the influence of the parents, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, unveiled legislation that would strike the mandate and allow school districts to decide how much a student’s end-of-course test score should figure into the final grade.

High school students must take 15 end-of-course exams to graduate, and parents feared that including the test scores in the course grade might affect a student’s grade-point average and, in turn, college admissions.

“This is about local control. The school districts, and the parents, should have a voice on whether the end-of-course exams should count towards a student’s final grade,” said Patrick, who plans to propose other modifications to STAAR in coming weeks.

“Local control” is one of those concepts that Republicans tend to invoke when it’s convenient and ignore when it’s not. It’s being used in service of something sensible here, so I’m not complaining, just noting the flexibility. The initial results from the STAAR test were not encouraging, and there has been considerable pushback from parents and school administrators over it. This is a breakthrough for them, but the fight is far from over.

Dineen Majcher, an Austin lawyer who helped form the parent group, Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, welcomed Patrick’s willingness to take the lead on an issue that had worried so many parents.

But she added that it wouldn’t quell the parents’ concerns over the testing system. They want legislators to reduce the number of tests that must be taken to graduate and modify the complicated method for determining if a student is on track for graduation.

“The 15 percent issue awoke us to a system that is bad for kids,” Majcher said. “Changing the 15 percent requirement is only a start. Thus, while this is an important step in the right direction, there are still significant revisions that must be made. Simply addressing the 15 percent is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a major hemorrhage.”

Business leaders that have been the most vocal proponents of the 15 percent provision were resigned Thursday to the about-face by lawmakers.

Bill “Hostage Taker” Hammond wasn’t quoted in this story, so I would not be too sure about business leaders taking this lying down. If Hammond throws a hissy fit over this, it will set up an interesting dynamic for the session, since he’ll be in opposition not just to Sen. Patrick but also to Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, and now Texas Education Agency head Michael williams, who has agreed to defer the 15% rule for now.

As I said, this fight is far from over. One vocal critic of Texas’ high-stakes testing regime is SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, and he has plenty to say on the subject.

Is the test really the problem? Personally, I don’t think so. Testing is a form of accountability and measurement. It’s always been a part of an education and it always will be. Despite what the Texas Association of Business wants you to believe, parents ARE NOT against testing or accountability. What parents ARE against are the stakes riding on the outcome of those tests and the fact that those tests are currently the only way a student, teacher, campus or district is deemed to be a success or failure in the eyes of the Legislature, the TEA and the public.

What’s the solution to this situation?

As you might expect, I have a few ideas.

1) We need the Legislature to repeal the 15% grade requirement. Simple enough.

2) We need the SBOE to start reducing the length of the TEKS as they come back up for renewal. TEKS are supposed to stand for the Texas ESSENTIAL Knowledge and Skills. They go well beyond what’s essential in my opinion.

3) We need an accountability system that contains elements that have nothing to do with the standardized test. Graduation rates, UIL participation, National Merit Scholars, CTE participation, service hours, dual credit enrollment are just a few suggestions. We also need to stop grading campuses and districts on their lowest performing sub-group. I know Commissioner Williams and the TEA are working on this and they are headed in the right direction. I just hope they go far enough to make meaningful change.

4) We simply have too many state-mandated tests. Massachusetts, which is supposedly the envy of all public schools systems in the United States, has 3 state-mandated standardized tests. Finland, which is supposedly the envy of all public school systems in the world, has one. That’s right, one. This reminds me of an old saying, “The cow doesn’t get heavier just because you weigh it more.”

So, I’d like to conclude with another farming analogy. It’s time to put the high-stakes testing regime out to pasture.

The Statesman story notes that Rep. Dan Huberty filed a bill to eliminate the 15% requirement altogether. I don’t expect that to pass, but it’s out there. I’m also reminded of one of Scott Hochberg’s proposals from last session to exempt students who did well on the STAAR in one year from taking them the next since they’re statistically almost certain to pass. If nothing else, that could be a good compromise. We’ll see how it goes.

Texas Freedom Network’s guide to the SBOE elections

The Texas Freedom Network has put out a useful little voter’s guide to the 2012 State Board of Education elections, which covers a range of topics from creationism and climate change to bullying and SBOE procedures. You might look at the answers that the candidates who responded submitted and think “Hey, cool, everyone is basically sane and rational”, but look again. Only one Republican incumbent (Thomas Ratliff) and one Republican running for an open seat (Laurie Turner, running for the seat currently held by Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga), submitted answers. Seven Republican incumbents, and three Republican candidates for Republican-held open seats, did not. Donna Bahorich, who is running for Terri Leo’s seat in SBOE6 and who is opposed by Traci Jensen, did not submit answers. Bahorich doesn’t much like talking to audiences that don’t already agree with her so no surprise here. Of course, for a number of these issues we already know where the Republican incumbents stand as their records are quite clear and they’re generally not shy about saying what they believe, but you wouldn’t know it from this. Anyway, take a look and see if your SBOE candidates gave answers. If they didn’t, you probably have a pretty good idea why not.

Who sets the standard for science?

I don’t get the fuss over this.

Many say students need to be science literate so they can innovate, compete and maneuver with the latest technology. If the United States wants to compete on the world stage, teachers and science lessons must evolve, too.

It’s largely with this agenda in mind that the National Research Council, states, educators and scientists are updating national standards in science instruction.

The Next Generation Science Standards involve identifying what all K-12 students must know in physics, life science, Earth/space science and engineering. It is a collaboration among the council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Achieve, an independent, bipartisan education reform organization based in Washington, D.C. Once completed, the standards will be ready for adoption by the states.

“We want to make sure our students are going to meet the demands of the 21st century,” said Stephen Pruitt, Achieve’s vice president for content, research and development.

Talk of national science standards, however, is stirring a debate in Texas, where members of the State Board of Education say they don’t plan to adopt them anytime soon, in part because the state recently overhauled its science standards.

State officials are also concerned that Texas, by agreeing to go along with the standards, would surrender too much control to outside sources, possibly the U.S. Education Department.

Board member Thomas Ratliff said an overhaul would “throw professional development and teachers and students in an absolute freefall.”

“I just can’t imagine there is any likelihood or chance that it could happen,” Ratliff said. “I think the further away from the children the standards are developed, the worse they are. They have to be all things to all people.”

[…]

State board member Patricia Hardy of Weatherford said it is too soon to overhaul science education again, noting that it would cost textbook companies and other providers of materials.

Texas last reviewed its science standards in 2009.The contentious process drew national attention, and the board eventually adopted science standards that encourage study of all sides of scientific theories.

“If we were to jump ship and go over to this other [set of standards], we would have wasted a lot of time and energy,” Hardy said. “When we push back against national standards, it is not really the elements that are in the science standard we are opposed to. It’s the idea that we prefer a state-run educational system.

“We want the state to be responsible for education. That isn’t to say that we can’t take ideas and consider them,” Hardy said. “We don’t want the federal government telling us how to run the schools. They can tell us this is being developed by outside sources, but I don’t … believe the Department of Education doesn’t have its thumb on this.”

I sort of understand Ratliff’s objection. He’s right that the broader an audience there is for a set of standards the harder it is to get everyone to buy into it and the more likely that it will be watered down or overloaded with parochial concerns. But honestly, what is there to be gained by having fifty individual science standards? Biology, chemistry, and physics don’t vary from state to state. The downside to letting everyone do their own thing is that it opens the door for various local yahoos (*cough* *cough* SBOE *cough* *cough*) to impose their own whacked out world view. I’m not going to say that one size fits all, but I definitely see value in an effort like the NGSS to create a standard that states can emulate. Science isn’t subjective – someone needs to say what’s right.

To their credit, neither Ratliff nor Hardy is ruling out using what the NGSS has to offer. Unfortunately, that may not happen any time soon, since the SBOE just finished wasting a bunch of time and insulting everyone’s intelligence with its current science curriculum. This is a good example of why it is best to get things right the first time. Water under the bridge now, but hopefully we’ll be better placed to do it correctly the next time. At least we’ll have something to go by when we do.

GOP results, statewide

Full, though not necessarily the most up to date, results, are here. The Trib and the Observer have good roundups as well.

– Mitt. Yawn. He was at just under 70% statewide, with Ron Paul getting 11% and Rick Santorum 8%. You have to wonder what might have been if Santorum had held on through May.

– Dewhurst and Cruz in a runoff, with the Dew getting 45% to Cruz’s 33%. I will not be taking bets on the outcome of that one. Tom Leppert had 13% and Craig James – cue the sad trombone – was below 4%. Why did he get in this race again? And did he really think he had crossover appeal? Geez.

(UPDATE: Mike Baselice, Dewhurst’s pollster, says every Republican candidate with over 43 percent going into a statewide runoff during the last 20 years has gone on to win. So Cruz may as well go ahead and concede now, right?)

– Christi Craddick and Warren Chisum will go into overtime for Railroad Commissioner, as will Barry Smitherman against Greg Parker. Supreme Court Justice David Medina got less than 40% in a three-way race and will face the will-he-never-go-away? candidate John Devine.

– All incumbent Congressfolk easily won re-nomination, with Campaign for Primary Accountability targets Ralph Hall (59%) and Joe Barton (63%) not particularly bothered. Kenny Marchant in CD24 was on some people’s watch lists as well, but he got 68% in his race. The two open seats for which the GOP is heavily favored in November were interesting. Roger Williams will duke it out with somebody, most likely Wes Riddle as I write this. Michael Williams was a total dud, finishing with just over 10% and in fifth place. Over in CD36, what in the world happened to Mike Jackson? Steve Stockman (!) and somebody named Steve Takach were neck and neck for the runoff slot. The other open seat, CD14, saw Pearlanders Randy Weber and Felicia Harris make it to the second round.

– The first signs of carnage are in the SBOE races. David Bradley, Barbara Cargill, and thankfully Thomas Ratliff all won, but George Clayton was headed to a third place finish in his four way race – Geraldine Miller, whom Clayton knocked off in a 2010 shocker, was leading the pack – and in a race that sure wasn’t on my radar, SBOE Chair Gail Lowe lost to Sue Melton. Where did that come from? The open SBOE 15 seat to replace Bob Craig was the closest race, with Marty Rowley leading Parent PAC-backed Anette Carlisle by 2000 votes.

– State Sen. Jeff Wentworth will have to keep running in SD25, as he had about 36% of the vote with 75% of precincts in. His opponent in July, in a blow to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, will not be Elizabeth Ames Jones, however, as Donna Campbell took for second place. I hope Wentworth can do better in overtime, because Campbell would make the Senate even dumber than Ames Jones would have. Former State Reps. Kelly Hancock (SD09), Mark Shelton (SD10, opposing Wendy Davis), Larry Taylor (SD11), and Charles Schwertner (SD05) all won the right to get a promotion in November.

– It’s in the State House that the body count begins to pile up. The following incumbents lost their races:

Leo Berman (HD06)
Wayne Christian (HD09)
Rob Eissler (HD15)
Mike Hamilton (HD19)
Marva Beck (HD57)
Barbara Nash (HD93)
Vicki Truitt (HD98)

Hamilton was paired with James White. Eissler was the chair of the Public Education committee. With Scott Hochberg retiring, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on two new people next year. And no, Eissler wasn’t beaten by someone who wanted to make public education better. Eissler didn’t distinguish himself last session in my opinion, but this is not an upgrade.

Incumbents in runoffs:

Turncoat Chuck Hopson (HD11, 47.15% to Travis Clardy’s 46.30%)
Turncoat JM Lozano (HD43, 41.55% to Bill Wilson’s 44.38% but with only 42 of 69 precincts reporting)
Sid Miller (HD59, 42.48% to JD Sheffield’s 41.50%)
Jim Landtroop (HD88, 34.63% in a four way race to Ken King’s 30.08% with two precincts out)

Speaker Joe Straus easily survived his re-election bid and picked up an opponent for Speaker before the first vote was counted.

– The Parent PAC slate had mixed results:

Texas Senate

S.D. 9: Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless – Lost
S.D. 11: Dave Norman, R-Seabrook – Lost
S.D. 25: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio – Runoff

Texas House of Representatives

H.D. 2: George Alexander, R-Greenville – Lost
H.D. 3: Cecil Bell, Jr., R-Magnolia – Won
H.D. 5: Mary Lookadoo, R-Mineola – Lost
H.D. 7: Tommy Merritt, R-Longview – Lost
H.D. 9: Chris Paddie, R-Marshall – Won
H.D. 24: Dr. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 29: Ed Thompson, R-Pearland – Won
H.D. 57: Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin – Won
H.D. 59: Dr. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville – In runoff
H.D. 68: Trent McKnight, R-Throckmorton – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 74: Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass – Winning as of last report
H.D. 92: Roger Fisher, R-Bedford – Lost
H.D. 94: Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington – Won
H.D. 96: Mike Leyman, R-Mansfield – Lost
H.D. 97: Susan Todd, R-Fort Worth – Lost
H.D. 106: Amber Fulton, R-The Colony – Lost
H.D. 114: Jason Villalba, R-Dallas – In runoff
H.D. 115: Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell – In runoff
H.D. 125: Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio – Won
H.D. 138: Whet Smith, R-Houston – Lost
H.D. 150: James Wilson, R-Spring – Lost

State Board of Education

SBOE 7: Rita Ashley, R-Beaumont – Lost
SBOE 9: Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant – Won
SBOE 15: Anette Carlisle, R-Amarillo – Lost

Unclear to me at this time if this is a net gain, a net loss, or a wash.

– David Bradley won his race, but Williamson County DA John Bradley was trailing as votes slowly trickled in. If that holds, it’s one of the best results of the day.

– Turnout was likely to be around 1.5 million, which will be a bit better for them than 2008 was (1,362,322 votes in the Presidential primary). Clearly, the Senate race drove their turnout. In 2004, they had less than 700,000 votes total.

(UPDATE: Total votes cast in the Presidential race were 1,438,553.)

On to the Democrats…

Three primary stories

TX Trib: 4 Democrats Vying to Replace Hochberg in HD-137

Observers say the winner of the contest for HD-137 is likely to be decided in the Democratic primary, whose four candidates are former Capitol staffers Joseph Carlos Madden and Jamaal Smith, Harris County prosecutor Gene Wu and Alief Independent School District board member Sarah Winkler.

“It’s a [minority-opportunity] district,” [HCDP Chair Lane] Lewis said. “People from all around the world are attracted to the district when they move to Houston. I’ve heard some people refer to it as the United Nations of Harris County.”

Only one Republican candidate, former Houston City Councilman M.J. Khan, is running for the seat. Several Democratic candidates said Khan’s name recognition could make him an opponent to be reckoned with in the general election. Khan has not filed any campaign finance reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Khan and the Harris County Republican Party did not return interview requests.

The Trib has done a number of stories about races like this, and they’ve done a good job of it. As they have done in other such articles, they manage to talk to all of the candidates and actually tell you something about them. It’s the mention of Republican candidate Khan that piqued my interest. As the story notes, he could be a formidable candidate in this Democratic-leaning but not rock solid district; in addition to the other factors cited, Khan could write his own check for the race and easily outspend whichever Dem wins the nomination. Yet so far at least he’s been completely disengaged. Maybe he’s just biding his time on the not-unreasonable theory that no one is really paying any attention right now, but I can’t escape the feeling that being a state legislator is not something MJ Khan has a burning desire to do. I understood his candidacy for City Controller – for sure, if he has it in his head to be Mayor some day, that’s a good way to go about it – but I never got the impression that state issues were a driving force for him. I could be wrong, and if someone out there knows better I’d love to hear from you, but I get kind of a Joe Agris 2008 vibe from him.

TX Trib: Two SBOE Rivals Each Facing Tough Primaries

Two influential incumbents on the State Board of Education — who are often at odds with each other — are both facing primary challenges that could result in a power shift on the fractious board.

Thomas Ratliff won a spot on the board after a 402-vote victory in the 2010 GOP primary over Don McLeroy, who brought international attention to the state with his spirited defense of creationism. Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant native who campaigned on a platform of taking politics out of education, has become one of the Republican-controlled board’s reliably moderate voices.

He has also been a thorn in the side of David Bradley, widely considered the ringleader of the strictly allied social conservatives who led the board to adopt science standards that required educators to teach “all sides” of evolution in 2009 and pushed for ideologically driven revisions to social studies standards in 2010.

During their time on the board, the two have been on opposing sides of issues like withdrawing money from the $25 billion Permanent School Fund to bridge the state-funding gap for public schools, requiring amendments to curriculum to be laid out at least 24 hours before a vote, and handing more authority to school districts for textbook purchases.

Now they both find themselves entangled in what are likely the board’s two most closely watched primary races.

Another Trib story, which I see as being what that lame Chron story should have been. It’s also a reminder that while the potential is there for the SBOE to become less crazy if the likes of Bradley and Cargill get defenestrated, the potential is also there for the pendulum to swing back hard towards Wackytown if Ratliff loses. TFN Insider has a handy list of the candidates to watch out for. It’s a bit unnerving to have to rely on the sanity of GOP primary voters, but for the SBOE there’s not much choice.

TX Observer: House District 26 – As Fort Bend Goes

HD26 under current interim map

Fort Bend has been called a bellwether county so often that it’s easy to become skeptical about the use of the term—even if the description is accurate.

Fort Bend, which sits just southwest of Houston, is among the most diverse and fast-growing counties in Texas, part of the “Big Five” fast-growing suburban counties along with Collin, Montgomery, Denton and Williamson. It has pleasant subdivisions with genteel names like First Colony and Sugar Creek and an abundance of retail outlets along Highway 6, which barrels through Sugar Land, the heart of state House District 26.

After 16 years, Republican incumbent Charlie Howard is leaving the legislative seat once held by Tom DeLay, long before he became U.S. House majority leader. Four Republicans, including two women of color, are running for the open seat.

[…]

HD26 under original interim map

Democrats hope to claim the county through building coalitions among its United Nations assembly of residents. Republicans are also courting the melting pot. Of the four competitors for the District 26 seat, the people of color are—Sonal Bhuchar, a trustee and former board president of the Fort Bend Independent School District, and Jacquie Chaumette, mayor pro tem of Sugar Land. Bhuchar is originally from India. Chaumette is from St. Croix, the U.S. Virgin Islands. The other candidates are Rick Miller, former chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County, and Diana Miller (no relation to Rick Miller), a real estate agent.

Bhuchar and Chaumette have big fundraising hauls and are considered strong contenders in the four-way race. [County GOP Chair Mike] Gibson, not surprisingly, downplays the candidates’ race. “We don’t look at Sonal as South East Asian or Jacquie as Caribbean, but as Americans with strong skill sets that we feel good about running as Republicans,’’ he says.

One thing this article doesn’t talk about is the fact that HD26 is one of the disputed districts in the ongoing redistricting litigation. Plaintiffs claim that districts such as HD26 are protected under the Voting Rights Act as minority coalition districts. In that fashion, a district that is more than 50% minority cannot be retrogressed even if no single racial group has more than a plurality of the population. The state argues that only districts in which a single protected minority is 50% or more does the VRA apply and as such there is no such thing as a protected coalition district; mapmakers are free to slice and dice as they see fit. That was how the Lege treated HD26, which is why it has that bizarre mutant Tetris piece shape, which it retained in the current interim map and which allows it to be a solid red 65% GOP district. In the original interim map, the judges drew a much more compact district that was also near partisan parity – both President Obama and Supreme Court candidate Sam Houston scored a bit over 48% in it. This is one of the questions that the DC court will address in the preclearance lawsuit, whether districts like HD26, SD10, CD25, and CD33 are covered by Section 5. If they rule for the plaintiffs, and if SCOTUS doesn’t come along behind them and gut the VRA, we could see a very different HD26 in two years’ time.

The “Moneyball” approach to public education

Via Lisa Falkenberg on Facebook, SBOE member Thomas Ratliff uses the philosophy from Moneyball to analyze the accountability system for Texas public schools.

The poster boy for the book

The book says, “One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks.”

In Texas public schools, you absolutely cannot tell the difference between an exemplary school district, a recognized district or an acceptable district simply by watching. The difference can be the performance of a small subset of students on one test on one day in the 180-day school year. This is a byproduct of our accountability system.

The book says, “The problem is that baseball statistics are not pure accomplishments of men against other men, which is what we are in the habit of seeing them as. They are accomplishments of men in combination with their circumstances.”

The accountability system doesn’t care about circumstances. It generates a report that shows how students did on a test, period. This is measuring the accomplishments of students against other students. We must change our accountability system to measure student performance in combination with their circumstances. Not all children enter or exit public schools with the same circumstances. We absolutely cannot have the same expectations for all of them, nor should we measure them all in the same manner. There are different definitions of success that involve academics, athletics, career and technology, community service, the arts, and the list goes on and on.

The book says, “I am a mechanic with numbers, tinkering with the records of baseball games to see how the machinery of the baseball offense works. I do not start with the numbers any more than a mechanic starts with a monkey wrench. I start with the game, with the things that I can see and the things people say, and I ask: Is it true?”

Our accountability system is designed to measure career and college readiness. The question is, “Is it true?” Does it predict career and college readiness? I believe it does not. My proof? To my knowledge, there are very few, if any, colleges or universities in the United States that look at TAKS test scores as part of a student’s application. If the accountability system and the state’s standardized test measured college readiness, wouldn’t you think colleges would look at it? Similarly, I’m not aware of a single business in the state of Texas that asks for TAKS test scores as part of the job application process. Again, if the system predicted career readiness, wouldn’t Texas employers use this as a part of evaluating prospective employees? We need an accountability system that takes a broader look at a student’s K-12 education and provides a measurement that will be useful to colleges, universities and employers.

Just for the record, it was the movie Bull Durham that first made the observation about being a .300 hitter. Be that as it may, a couple of points. One, while everyone talks about the statistics when discussing “Moneyball”, the central insight that Billy Beane had wasn’t just that on-base percentage and slugging average correlated better to winning than batting average does, it’s that (at the time, at least) those skills were valued less in the marketplace than batting average was. As a low-budget team, the A’s needed to take advantage of market inefficiencies like that to overcome their financial disadvantage. That’s beyond the scope of Ratliff’s analogy, but as this was the most misunderstood part of the book, it needs to be said.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I think Ratliff is on to something here. Is it true that TAKS scores correlate to success in college? More to the point, do TAKS scores correlate better than other available measures to success in college? I don’t know, and it’s not clear to me that anyone else does, or at least that anyone in a position of authority does. This is an easy enough question to answer, if we’re tracking how students ultimately fare in college. Let’s crunch the numbers and see what we get. Maybe TAKS scores are a good metric. Maybe there’s something else, like writing ability or extracurricular participation, that correlates better. Maybe we’ll find that external factors like a family’s income level and prior educational attainment are better predictors than any standardized test we can come up with. We won’t know until we hold our accountability systems accountable.

A look ahead to SBOE races

Regardless of what happens with the other maps, the one map that was precleared and is set for the next decade is the SBOE. With all 15 members up for re-election (like the Senate, everyone has to run in the first election post-redistricting), there are already some hot races shaping up. This Trib story from a few days back has a look.

Now, with three longtime (and reliably moderate) members stepping down and all 15 members up for re-election because of changes brought about by redistricting, political control over the divisive board hangs in the balance. And even though the filing period has yet to begin, there are already signs that these races could get ugly. Questions about one member’s sexual orientation, for example, are already being raised.

Some board members will also undoubtedly try to oust each other. [David] Bradley, who consistently votes with the board’s social conservatives, said he would be “actively working” against Thomas Ratliff, [Don] McLeroy’s replacement.

Randy Stevenson, a Tyler businessman who served on the board from 1994 to 1998, announced Wednesday that he would run against Ratliff, a registered lobbyist whose clients include Microsoft and whose opponents, because of that, have argued that he should be disqualified from office.

[…]

Bradley has yet to attract a declared opponent, but that’s expected to happen soon. Meanwhile, social conservative incumbents Ken Mercer and chairwoman Barbara Cargill have already drawn primary challengers, as has George Clayton. Bob Craig and Marsha Farney, moderate Republicans, and Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat, have all announced that they will not seek re-election.

Farney was elected in 2010, so while she may have been a moderate, she certainly wasn’t “longtime”. As noted before, all of these races make me nervous. Having to rely on Republican primary voters to do something non-crazy is not a bet you want to have to make. And will a Democrat please file to run against Terri “Don’t call me “Terry” Leo? I promise to contribute to your campaign if you do.

The race in Clayton’s district, which now includes all of Collin County north of Dallas, may prove especially contentious. Clayton, a teacher who lives in Richardson, defeated longtime incumbent Geraldine “Tincy” Miller in an upset during the 2010 primary. Miller now wants her old seat back and has launched a campaign attacking Clayton’s conservative credentials, in particular his support of a plan last spring that would have directed $2 billion from the Permanent School Fund to public schools.

[…]

But perhaps more damaging to Clayton in a Republican primary are the rumors that prompted him to send an email to members of the media last week with the subject line “sexual orientation.” Clayton, who was leaked the notes of a conversation between Miller and Tea Party Activist Susan Fletcher that mentioned his “living arrangements,” confirmed in the email that he has “a male partner who lives with me in my home.”

In a phone interview, Miller said that she was not the one who brought up Clayton’s sexual orientation, but she noted that others have. Fletcher said in an email that she was “urged by several sources in general” to investigate Clayton’s living arrangement — but not by Miller.

Clayton said in an email that when he realized his personal life might become an issue in the campaign, his first instinct was to “nip it in the bud.” That strategy has already cost him one supporter: Conservative blogger Donna Garner, who is a vocal follower of education issues, sent out an email Tuesday night retracting an endorsement of him.

Clayton said the political makeup of the board — and whether “cool heads and reasonable discussions” would prevail — depends on the next election. The board’s biggest responsibility in the next four years, he wrote, will be “to keep public education alive in Texas.”

Clayton’s win over Miller in 2010 might have been the most out-of-left-field result from that year. Nobody knew anything about the guy. He turned out to be an upgrade, so naturally the universe, or at least the Republican Party, is trying to course-correct. As with all of the other races so far, I have a bad feeling about this one.

We need better information about our schools

SBOE member Thomas Ratliff makes a lot of sense about school accountability ratings and how little they really tell you about a given school’s performance.

Many people across the state are familiar with the terms “exemplary,” “recognized,” “academically acceptable” or “academically unacceptable” when reading about our public schools. Unfortunately, the majority of people have no idea what those words really mean in the context of school performance.

The TEA assigns these one- or two-word descriptions to entire campuses and entire school districts in an attempt to provide the public with a general indication of how that campus or district is performing academically. The problem is, they don’t tell the whole story.

In fact, these rankings only tell the public how the lowest-performing sub-group is doing. Yes, you read that right, the lowest. What are the subgroups? Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged and special needs students are the sub-groups the TEA tracks.

So, at your local district, four out of five sub-groups could be doing great while one is struggling, and the whole campus or district gets the low ranking. An analogy: If a whole high school track team ran races every month, and at the end of the year, every team member received the worst time of the slowest runner, it would be how our school accountability rating system works. Does that sound fair or accountable?

People love to talk about government being run like a business. Tell me about businesses that issue news releases only about how the weakest part of their organization is doing. They don’t. They tell you how the entire business is doing — the good and the bad.

We should demand the same from TEA when they tell us about our local schools.

His basic argument, with which I agree, is that the Texas Education Agency should provide details about how all of the subgroups perform in a given school, and presumably rank schools by how they did within each category. It’s quite clear what the benefits of that would be. That takes on extra importance now because the TEA has made changes to the controversial Texas Projection Measure, which had previously overstated the results at many schools. As Ratliff notes, some schools could see their accountability rating drop while nonetheless having better performance overall among its students. I hope the TEA listens, and may I say again how lucky we are that he knocked off Don McLeroy last year.

Cut education now, pay later?

That’s the question for Republican legislators, isn’t it?

GOP legislators didn’t budge this session from their commitment to reduce Texas’ education spending even in the face of protests, negative ad campaigns and reams of criticism.

The outcry didn’t faze them because it wasn’t coming from within their party.

That might change, some Republicans say, once parents see the aftermath in their child’s school of the state’s $4 billion — or 5.6 percent — reduction in what is owed to local school districts. The fallout could include teacher layoffs, school closures and elimination of extra programs or higher property taxes.

Republican incumbents “are going to be sent home by Republican primary voters because what they’re doing in public education is not in any way conservative,” said State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant. “Our version of conservative is mainstream conservative, not extreme conservative.”

Of course, there’s more to it than just the Republican primary, which is what this story focuses on. Republicans voted as a unified bloc all session, so legislators in swing districts will be running on the same record as legislators in safe R seats. There will be a lot more voters who don’t vote in Republican primaries to persuade that this was the wrong thing to do. If it really is the case that education is seen as the most important issue, then that will help. Right now it’s anybody’s guess, and there are too many factors that can influence things to have any clear idea about what will happen. It’s just too early to say.

I will say this much: The Tea Party influence on Republican legislative primaries may be a tad bit overstated. A grand total of three Republican incumbents fell to primary challenges. Two of them – Tommy Merritt and Delwyn Jones – were longtime targets of the more radical elements. The third – well, let me ask: Can you name the third Republican incumbent to lose in a 2010 primary? Off the top of your head, without using the Internet? I’ll tell you that I had either never realized this particular legislator had lost, or I’d forgotten it because the winner of that race has been completely invisible (to me, anyway). I’ll put the answer beneath the fold. Other targeted legislators like Charlie Geren and Todd Smith survived. Some of the noisier teabaggers, like James White, Jason Isaac, and Jose Aliseda, were unopposed in their primaries. The teabaggers did do well in primaries for open seats, and Bill Birdwell’s victory in the SD22 special election against the establishment candidate David Sibley was a big deal, but the overall record isn’t deep. While it’s clear that the threat of getting teabagged worked wonders for party unity this year, what will happen in 2012 if the interests of the Republicans’ monied interests diverge from the teabaggers is unknown. EoW has more.

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A few facts about education employment

State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff brings some numbers to the debate.

When you hear the discussion about the increase in the number of “non-teachers” in our schools, consider the following facts. These numbers represent full-time equivalent employees to account for part-time and/or contract employees.

Campus administration employees account for 2.8 percent of the staff, compared with 2.6 percent in 1999-2000. Keep in mind that we’ve added 1,040 campuses and 65 charter schools since then.

Central administration employees account for only 1 percent of the staff, compared with 0.9 percent in 1999-2000.

Teachers account for 50.5 percent of the staff, compared with 51.3 percent in 1999-2000.

Auxiliary staff (such as cafeteria workers, janitors and bus drivers) account for 27 percent of the staff, compared with 27.6 percent in 1999-2000.

Aides and support staff (such as counselors, librarians and nurses) account for 18.7 percent of the staff, compared with 17.6 percent in 1999-2000.

Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone claim that there are too many administrators or some such. The jobs that will be lost as a result of the Republicans’ drastic, short-sighted budget will be those that have a direct effect on students. Burka has more.

By the way, our social studies standards still suck

So says a conservative think tank.

In a report [released Wednesday], the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gives the Texas social studies curriculum standards a “D” while accusing “the conservative majority” of using the curriculum “to promote its political priorities, molding the telling of the past to justify its current views and aims.”

“Biblical influences on America’s founding are exaggerated, if not invented. The complicated but undeniable history of separation between church and state is flatly dismissed,” the group wrote.

The broad swipe from a respected conservative education think tank comes after civil rights groups and minority lawmakers have demanded the board scrap the standards and start over.

The Fordham Institute report faults the new Texas standards for distorting or suppressing aspects that the board found politically unacceptable, such as slavery and segregation, while exaggerating religious influences.

“The resulting fusion is a confusing, unteachable hodgepodge, blending the worst of two educational dogmas,” the report said.

The Thomas B. Fordham’s website is here, and their full report is here (PDF). The main question is whether or not this will lead to the SBOE reconsidering its previous work.

“My preference is to take the finished product and put it back through the process with the (expert) writing teams,” said State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant. “Go back through with teachers, experts, businessmen and women and do it right.”

[…]

The SBOE is not likely to take another look at the social studies standards, said Chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.

“The State Board of Education has moved on to the review of mathematics and fine arts standards,” she said. “I doubt that many would want to put an important area like math on hold for an additional year while we revisit the history standards.”

Lowe’s unwillingness will trigger a fight with lawmakers, said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, head of the 40-member Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

“If she cannot see the problem, she cannot be part of the solution,” he said. “She owes it to the state of Texas to have the right social studies curriculum in place.”

The curriculum standards will shape new textbooks that could be adopted as early as next year, although budget problems could delay the purchase.

“In a time of record budget deficits, I don’t believe it’s wise to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on books that are not accurate,” Martinez Fischer said. “Nobody would dispute that.”

I think there’s a decent chance that delaying the purchase of textbooks will be one of the budget-balancing tricks the Lege will employ. Whether that will lead to a change or just postpone the inevitable, I couldn’t say. Given that every member of the SBOE will be up for election in the post-redistricting 2012 cycle, it would be nice if the forces of sanity made another push to win some seats in what should be a much better electoral climate. The Trib has more, and a statement from the Texas Freedom Network is beneath the fold.

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The SBOE and charter schools

Some members of the State Board of Education want to get into the charter school business.

Representatives for Texas’ 460 independent charter schools asked the State Board of Education on Wednesday to tap into the state’s education trust fund and for the first time provide them classrooms and facilities for their students.

The charter school operators also expressed support for board member David Bradley’s proposal to take up to $100 million from the $22 billion Permanent School Fund and use it to purchase or build facilities that the board would lease to charter schools.

[…]

While several board members expressed interest in the facilities idea, others had questions, citing the large number of charter schools that have failed since being first authorized 15 years ago.

“Once the board awards a charter, we have no control over the school after that – and that causes me great concern,” said board member Bob Craig, R-Lubbock. “I just don’t see this as a good investment,”

He said 71 state licenses for charter schools have been revoked, removed or returned since the program began.

Board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, said the board would have the same concerns as banks and other financial institutions that have been reluctant to lend money to charter operators to build schools or remodel buildings.

A more pointed objection was raised by SBOE Chair Gail Lowe.

Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe , R-Lampasas, said she is a proponent of charter schools and would like to help them cover their facility costs.

But the assets of the fund, which was established by the state constitution in 1876 , have to be invested for the benefit of all Texas schoolchildren for generations to come. Given that mandate, Lowe said, she is not convinced this investment would be in the best interest of the fund, even if only a relatively small amount is dedicated to the program.

“Regardless of what percentage it is, it is still incumbent upon a fiduciary to determine what is in the best interest of the fund,” Lowe said.

The Trib and Abby Rapoport have more on this; board member Bob Craig also pointed out the risk of litigation if someone decides that Bradley’s proposal does not meet the mandate Lowe points out. This proposal by Bradley first surfaced last month, and so far I haven’t seen a good response to the concerns that member-elect Thomas Ratliff and State Rep. Scott Hochberg raised in that story:

Newly elected board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who will take over from former chair Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, in January, said the board has no business going into the rental business.

“If they want to do it, they better do it quick, because I don’t think the votes will be there on the board in January,” he says. “Charter school facilities are a legitimate issue. But it’s a problem for the state Legislature to solve. … If a charter school has a good business model, than it should be no problem getting a loan in the commercial space. And if not, why would we want to invest?”

[…]

On the House side, Hochberg says the alternative stretches the SBOE far out of the bounds of its authority over the public school fund. Common sense dictates that the best-possible investment mix to maximize Permanent School Fund revenues will change constantly, as the market changes. Real estate in general might be a great investment today and a terrible one a month from now. A board decision to lock itself into specific properties for the specific purpose of renting only to charters can’t possibly be the best business decision for all market environments — if it makes sense at all, Hochberg says.

“Let’s say you decide to invest a certain amount in real estate, and you buy a building and rent it to Wal-Mart — and then the market changes, so you decide to change investments and sell it. You can do that. But what if a charter school is in there?” Hochberg asks. “They’re not supposed to be in a specific business — they’re supposed to be investing in the long-term interest of the children of the state of Texas.”

It is interesting how Bradley, who is one of those “the government is the problem, the free market is the solution” conservatives wants to use the government to solve a problem with the free market, isn’t it? Things can look a little different when the free market isn’t being kind to something you like, I guess. Having said that, I don’t think Bradley’s plan is completely nuts. I think that if there were sufficient controls in place to ensure that good charter schools could thrive while bad ones could be quickly shut down, there’s an argument to be made for the state helping out with the facilities end of things. I think that’s a job better suited for the Lege, however. Having an answer for Ratliff and Hochberg would be nice, too.

In the end, the SBOE decided to go for it. After initially voting to adopt an asset allocation plan as a committee that did not include any charter school funds, the Board then went ahead and allocated some funds for this plan.

The measure passed 7-6 with two members absent: Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio. Agosto voted against the measure in committee yesterday and could have killed it today by voting the same way. Berlanga’s position on the issue is unknown, but she often votes against the conservative members who pushed the measure.

The board’s bloc of social conservatives usually consists of seven Republicans on the 15-member panel, including chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas. While Lowe voted against the plan, the bloc succeeded in pulling a Democratic vote from Rene Nunez, of El Paso. Other members voting for the plan included David Bradley, R-Beaumont — who spearheaded the idea — Don McLeroy, R-Bryan; Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio; Terri Leo, R-Spring; Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond; and Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands.

The allocation was contingent on a favorable opinion from the Attorney General and “express legislative authority”. I have a feeling the Lege is more likely to expressly yank their chain on this, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Until then, consider it one last parting gift from the McLeroy/Dunbar axis of ideology. Abby Rapoport has more.

More on the SBOE

The Texas Freedom Network does a victory dance over the defeat of wingnut SBOE member Don McLeroy, noting that overall the forces of good did much better than the far right did.

“Don McLeroy was right when he said this election was a referendum on what the board has done over the past four years,” [TFN President Kathy] Miller said. “Voters sent a clear message by rejecting the ringleader of the faction that has repeatedly dragged our public schools into the nation’s divisive culture wars over the past four years. Parents want a state board that focuses on educating their kids, not promoting divisive political and personal agendas.”

The Republican primary between McLeroy and challenger Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant had the highest profile of all the state board contests. In addition to McLeroy’s defeat in District 9, Randy Rives of Odessa lost his race against incumbent Bob Craig of Lubbock in the District 15 Republican primary, and Joan Muenzler lost her District 3 GOP primary against fellow San Antonian Tony Cunningham. Both Rives and Muenzler were backed by far-right groups such as WallBuilders and the Texas Pastor Council.

In addition, Austin attorney Brian Russell, who Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, recruited to run for her District 10 seat, was forced into a Republican runoff against Marsha Farney of Georgetown.

The NCSE also celebrates McLeroy’s defeat. There’s a decent chance that Dunbar’s old seat could flip to the Democrats, where Judy Jennings is the nominee. Democrats also have a strong candidate in Rebecca Bell-Metereau running against Ken Mercer in district 5, though that’s a tougher hill to climb. Here’s an email I got from Suzy Allison, that lays out what we have to look forward to from here:

PRIMARY RESULTS ARE IN – THE LINEUP FOR THE NOVEMBER ELECTION

There are eight SBOE seats which will be filled in November. Here are the results so far.

Some you win, some you lose, one goes into overtime.

District 1 – 38 counties from El Paso to Starr County along the Rio Grande, stretching north to include Midland County, Mason and Bandera Counties. Rene Nunez (D), incumbent. Nunez is the Democratic nominee, and will be challenged by Carlos “Charlie” Garza, the Republican nominee. Neither had a primary challenger. This district’s down-ballot race non-Presidential year performance in 2006 was 53.5% D, 46.5% R.

District 3 – All or part of 13 counties from Bexar in the north to Hidalgo County in the south. Rick Agosto (D), incumbent. Michael Soto is the Democratic nominee (Agosto did not file for re-election), Tony Cunningham is the Republican Nominee. The down-ballot off-year numbers from 2006 for this district are 57.9% D, 42.1% R.

District 4 – Part of Harris County and a small part of Fort Bend County. Lawrence A. Allen, Jr. (D), incumbent. Allen is returning to the SBOE, as he had no primary challenge and has no Republican opponent in this overwhelmingly Democratic district.

District 5 – Parts of Bexar and Travis Counties, as well as Bell, Burnet, Llano, Gillespie, Blanco, Kendall, Hays, Caldwell, Guadalupe and Comal Counties. Ken Mercer (R), incumbent. Mercer won his primary and is the Republican nominee. Rebecca Bell-Metereau is the Democratic nominee. The 2006 down-ballot percentages for this district are 41.2% D, 58.8% R.

District 9 – From Fannin, Lamar and Red River Counties in the north, stretching south to include Brazos, Grimes and Walker Counties, includes part of Collin County. 29 counties lie entirely or partly in this district. Thomas Ratliff has beaten Don McLeroy in the Republican primary and will be seated on the SBOE. No Democrat filed in this Republican district.

District 10 – Parts of Travis County on the western end, and Fort Bend and Brazoria Counties on the eastern end, this also includes Williamson, Milam, Bastrop, Burleson, Lee, Fayette, Gonzales, DeWitt, Lavaca, Colorado, Austin, Washington and Waller Counties. Cynthia Dunbar (R), incumbent. Dunbar chose not to run for re-election. Judy Jennings is the Democratic nominee who had no primary opposition. Brian Russell and Marsha Farney will face each other in the Republican run-off. This district’s down-ballot performance in 2006 was 46.7% D, 53.3% R.

District 12 – Parts of Dallas and Collin Counties, Rockwall County. Geraldine “Tincy” Miller (R), incumbent. George M. Clayton, in a surprise, has beaten Geraldine “Tincy” Miller and will take a seat on the SBOE. Miller was usually a constructive voice on the SBOE. Clayton is relatively unknown, but some of his comments in a newspaper interview make it possible to doubt that he will be as constructive. This Republican district had no Democrat filed. This district’s 2006 down-ballot numbers were 37.8% D, 62.2% R.

District 15 – This 75-county (as in huge) panhandle district includes Lubbock County as its largest population center. Bob Craig (R), the incumbent, beat his primary opponent and will return to the SBOE. No Democrat filed. This district’s down-ballot numbers in 2006 were 30.2% D, 69.8% R.

Still unclear what Clayton’s defeat of Tincy Miller means. His website is sparse and amateurish, and while I get a somewhat hinky vibe from it, I really can’t draw any conclusions about him from it. Far as I can tell, no one has done a story on him or interview with him since Tuesday, and the TFN still hasn’t addressed his victory – for that matter, neither has anyone on the other side – so for now he’s a cipher. Stuff like this doesn’t help:

Clayton managed to topple the incumbent with his low-budget campaign, mostly conducted through appearances around the district and a Web site promoting his run.

“If you think that having a working teacher on the State Board of Education might be a refreshing, productive and appropriate move, then you will need to vote for me,” he said on his site.

Clayton of Richardson, who is academic coordinator at North Dallas High School, said on his site that “personal political views of board members should play no part in their decisions regarding textbook content or curriculum” – an apparent slap at the board’s social conservative bloc.

He did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Hard to say what the guy plans to do or how he plans to act if he isn’t talking. If anyone knows anything about him, please speak up in the comments. Thanks.

Election results: McLeroy loses!

The second-best news of the evening is that wackjob SBOE member Don McLeroy lost to Thomas Ratliff, thus making the state’s worst elected body at least somewhat less dysfunctional.

The board’s balance of power is delicate. Though it’s had ten Republicans and five Democrats serving, seven socially conservative Republicans formed a reliable voting bloc that, with the swing vote of Democratic member Rick Agosto, gave them the power to advance a socially conservative agenda.

That’s over now. Agosto did not seek re-election, and his probable replacement, Democrat Michael Soto, originally set out to challenge him and isn’t likely to take the same positions Agosto took. (Republican Tony Cunningham will run against Soto in the general election, but Cunningham hasn’t filed an campaign finance report since 2006, while Soto’s last report showed him raising $14,000.)

Without Agosto, the social conservative bloc needed both McLeroy and Ken Mercer to survive the election in order to maintain its power. Both races featured incumbent social conservatives versus more mainstream Republican lawyer-lobbyists. Both were expected to be close. One was, one wasn’t.

McLeroy lost by just over one thousand votes against Thomas Ratliff, a lawyer and lobbyist who also happens to be the son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.

The vote tally I see on the SOS Election Night Returns page is Ratliff 56,207, McLeroy 55,368. A recount is possible, but that margin is unlikely to change by more than a handful. No matter what else happens this year, that one election has enabled Texas to take a huge step forward.

The other big SBOE result, which apparently caught the entire political world by surprise – not the only such result for the evening, as you’ll see – was the ouster of longtime Board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller by some guy no one has ever heard of.

Miller, who has served on the board since 1984, lost to challenger George Clayton, an educator with an unorthodox platform. Clayton only spent $1,788 on the race compared to Miller’s $54,685.

[…]

What Clayton’s addition will mean for the board isn’t clear. His platform, according to his website, argues for ending “all punitive measures against teachers resulting from poor student performance on all district and state mandated tests” and for requiring that all curriculum proposals “be approved by a general vote of teachers in a district.”

As for his views on social issues, the traditional flashpoint for the state board, the best clues come from his interview with the Dallas Observer, in which Clayton said: “It’s seems to me you can’t be taught the one [evolution] without the other [creationism]. It’s an impossibility to talk about evolution without mentioning creationism.”

Even the Texas Freedom Network was unprepared for this one. I’m sure we’ll be learning more about him soon.

Elsewhere, Ken Mercer easily defeated Tim Tuggey, so the route to improvement in that district goes through Rebecca Bell-Metereau‘s campaign; mainstream incumbent Republican Bob Craig beat back his wingnut challenger; and there will be a GOP runoff for Cynthia Dunbar’s seat, with Rebecca Osborne unfortunately finishing third. Get to know Judy Jennings, people.

Endorsement watch: Statesman on the SBOE

The Statesman makes some recommendations in SBOE primaries in hopes of getting a better, or at least a slightly less dysfunctional, Board for the coming year.

In the District 5 Republican primary, Tim Tuggey, 54, gets our endorsement. Tuggey, running against incumbent Ken Mercer, is a lawyer and lobbyist from Austin who graduated with honors from the University of Texas School of Law, served as a captain in the U.S. Army and is a product of Texas public schools.

Tuggey brings a level head and financial management experience to the board. It speaks volumes that he has earned the endorsement of business leader Red McCombs and H-E-B. CEO Charles Butt for a campaign that focuses on improving dropout rates, preparing students for college or work after high school and competent oversight of the school fund.

In the District 5 Democratic primary, Rebecca Bell-Metereau, 60, is the best choice. She is running against Daniel Boone, Josiah James Ingalls and Robert Bohmfalk.

Bell-Metereau brings strong skills to the job as a longtime English professor at Texas State University. With a distinguished academic background, experience raising two daughters in San Marcos public schools, high energy and thorough knowledge of the challenges facing public schools, she won’t put politics over children’s welfare.

For District 10, we endorse Republican Rebecca Osborne, 51, a teacher in the Round Rock school district. It would be a refreshing change to have someone on the board who could give a contemporary classroom perspective. In addition to college preparation, she wants schools to offer career and vocational instruction for students who decide to go directly to jobs after high school.

[…]

We’re also making an endorsement in the District 9 race that includes Brazos County, home of Texas A&M University. We recommend Thomas Ratliff in the Republican primary.

Ratliff, 42, of Mount Pleasant, a graduate of Texas Tech University with a UT master’s degree, has immersed himself in public school issues, including serving as a room parent for his daughter’s second grade class. He understands the urgency of the task of getting students ready to compete in a global society.

His opponent, incumbent Don McLeroy, 63, is stuck in the past, advocating a back-to-basics curriculum that all but guarantees that Texas students will lag behind their peers. Time to end McLeroy’s tenure.

That’s not even counting McLeroy’s – and Mercer’s – troglodytic views on science, history, and just about everything else. The Trib has a good overview of the SBOE 5 GOP primary as well, and you just can’t help but notice how much this stuff is about politics and grievances for the likes of Mercer and McLeroy and their destructive crew. Getting those two to join their retiring comrade Cynthia Dunbar on the sidelines would be such a huge step forward.

Endorsement watch: DMN for Ratliff and Kinky

The Dallas Morning News has a couple of endorsements of interest, one good and one puzzling. In the good one, they endorse challenger Thomas Ratliff in his GOP primary race for the SBOE against wingnut Don McLeroy.

McLeroy, a board member since 1999, undoubtedly cares about education. But this panel could use Ratliff’s more practical approach to keep its work focused on essential issues. He’s not an ideological brawler and could develop consensus.

Ratliff has had experience doing just that while serving on boards at his children’s public schools in East Texas. And he says he would listen to teachers and superintendents in determining what students should know. Setting standards is a key function of this board, and Ratliff, 42, would be more in touch with educators than McLeroy. While Ratliff shouldn’t become their captive, Texans are better served by someone who takes teachers’ points of view seriously in crafting curriculum.

We also prefer Ratliff’s emphasis on depoliticizing appointments of outside advisers, including those who handle the state’s sizable education funds. The board has run into problems in selecting investment advisers.

I think that first sentence is too generous to McLeroy, who as far as I can tell cares only about advancing his ideological agenda. The single best thing that could happen to the SBOE would be for Ratliff to beat McLeroy.

And in the puzzling one, they recommend Kinky Friedman for Ag Commish. Sort of. Actually, they just express dislike of Hank Gilbert and go from there.

Gilbert knows agriculture issues in vastly greater depth than Friedman, but he would lead Texas in the wrong direction in key areas. One is a move away from globalization and toward protectionism for farm products. He says he is not a big fan of crop subsidies, yet he thinks Congress caved to foreign nations that complained Washington was propping up U.S. producers too much.

Gilbert, 50, of Whitehouse, also opposes key parts of the state water plan. He would take the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir off the table as a possible water source for the burgeoning Dallas-Fort Worth area. He would bank on a less-certain strategy of shipping in water from other regions and building massive desalinization plants to purify brackish water.

Friedman, 65, of Austin, doesn’t get into such details. He says he’d hire experts to hash out policy so he could concentrate on being a spokesman for family farms and kindness to animals. That’s not a great model for the job, but a better one than Gilbert proposes.

Inspiring, huh? How seriously is Friedman taking this job and this election? Well, he’s got gigs scheduled in Dallas (warning: music) and here in Houston while early voting is going on. I guess hiring experts to do the actual work really frees a guy up to do what he wants. Hey, DMN, did it occur to you that you could just not offer an endorsement in the race? Sheesh.

Endorsement watch: ParentPAC for Thomas Ratliff

I’m very glad to see that the Texas ParentPAC is getting involved in the SBOE primaries. Here’s their press release for the District 9 GOP race:

The bipartisan Texas Parent PAC today announced its endorsement of Thomas Ratliff for election to District 9 State Board of Education, which includes all or part of 29 counties in East and North Texas.

“Parents and children deserve be represented by a respected leader like Thomas Ratliff,” said Texas Parent PAC board of directors member Pam Meyercord of Dallas. “His focus will always be on educational excellence in our public schools rather than on politics.”

Texas Parent PAC was created by parents in 2005 with the goal of electing more state leaders who will consistently stand up for public education. A broad base of individuals and business leaders supports the PAC’s bipartisan grassroots campaign efforts.

The 15-member elected State Board of Education is not well-known by voters. The board is responsible for establishing policy, adopting curriculum standards and textbooks, and providing leadership for the state’s public school system. In Texas, 4.7 million students attend public schools on more than 8,300 campuses.

“This election has statewide implications, because the State Board of Education sets policy affecting every child and every public school classroom in Texas,” Meyercord said. “Thomas Ratliff will respectfully listen to parents and educators and bring much needed business expertise and fiscal responsibility to this important board.”

He earned a bachelor of business administration degree from Texas Tech University and a master of public affairs degree from The University of Texas at Austin. Meyercord said Ratliff has the analytical skills, integrity, and judgment necessary to make better board decisions on managing billions of dollars in the Permanent School Fund.

Ratliff and his wife Stacy are rearing their two children surrounded by extended family in their hometown of Mount Pleasant, where both graduated from Mount Pleasant High School. Both Thomas and Stacy have served on leadership teams for their children’s public schools and in countless school volunteer roles.

Last year, Thomas was lay leader at Tennison United Methodist Church and is a frequent Sunday School teacher.

Texas Parent PAC is endorsing a small and select number of Republican and Democratic candidates statewide. The PAC describes its endorsed candidates as “men and women of integrity, open and responsive to parents, actively involved in their communities, and committed to investing in public education to achieve economic prosperity in Texas.”

Public school supporters are encouraged to visit www.thomasratliff.com to find a map of District 9 and persuade their friends and relatives throughout the large district to vote for Ratliff during the early voting period February 16 – 26 and on election day, March 2. Texas Parent PAC is also urging parents to volunteer in the Ratliff campaign and/or donate money and in-kind services.

This is great news, and I hope they have the kind of success in knocking off a virulent enemy of public education as they did in 2006 when they hit the scene with a splash by booting Kent Grusendorf. The release doesn’t mention Ratliff’s opponent, but I will: Don McLeroy, who may be the single most malevolent force against students and the curriculum today operating right now, given that the Lege is not in session. I hope the ParentPAC has enough muscles to flex in this Republican race to make a difference, and I hope they’ll be looking at some of the other primaries to see where they might be effective as well.

The SBOE slate

Martha has a great rundown of the slate of candidates for the State Board of Education, along with some partisan index numbers for the districts, which you should check out. The best part about this is that with Michael Soto replacing Rick Agosto in District 3, the Board is assured of being at least a little bit better. Dems have a decent shot at claiming the now-open seat being vacated by the loony Cynthia Dunbar in 10, but even if Judy Jennings doesn’t pull it off, we may get a better Republican in there if Rebecca Osborne is their nominee. Knocking off the crappy Ken Mercer in District 5 is a much longer shot, but Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Daniel Boone are both good candidates for the Democrats. And finally, if Thomas Ratliff can take out ur-wingnut Don McLeroy in the GOP primary in 9, that would be beyond awesome.

I suppose one benefit to having a Board that’s as full of clowns and losers as this one is that there’s a lot of upside and very little risk in an election like this. The potential is there for the SBOE of 2011 to be a vast improvement over the SBOE of 2009. So go take a look at the list of candidates, and see who you can help to make that happen this March and November. The Trib has more.

Let’s make this a bad year for Don McLeroy

Don McLeroy is a wee bit concerned about losing one of his allies on the SBOE.

State Board of Education former Chair (and current member) Don McLeroy wasn’t too concerned about losing Democratic swing-vote Rick Agosto. At least not at first.

“The big impact will be if I depart,” McLeroy said over the phone.

[…]

But an hour later, McLeroy called back with some different news. Agosto’s abstention on the math book, which McLeroy dismissed initially, was actually essential, he said. “We never could have done that without him,” McLeroy said in a voice message.

“He did a lot of thinking on his own,” McLeroy explained in the recording. “He was not a rubber stamp for anybody.” For those unfamiliar with McLeroy, not being a rubber stamp is high praise.

Why the change? Perhaps McLeroy realized the danger the conservatives on the board would face without Agosto.

If that’s not a good reason to be happy about Agosto’s departure and get behind the candidacy of Michael Soto, I don’t know what would be. Even better is the news that State Rep. Brian McCall is endorsing McLeroy’s primary opponent, Thomas Ratliff. And we’ve got some good Democratic candidates lining up to take aim at some of McLeroy’s other buddies. If we can make 2010 a bad year for Don McLeroy, it will be a very good year for Texas and all of its students.

SciencePAC

Chad Orzel mentions an idea by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum from their book Unscientific America.

Why not form a nonpartisan science political action committee, or PAC, devoted to funding candidates who are either scientists themselves or who make science a strong priority and have good records on science issues? With adequate fundind, the PAC might select, say, five or ten members or candidates to support each election cycle. If there’s a desire to be really aggressive (and we have mixed feelings about this strategy), it could also target science “bad guys”– climate change deniers, officials who promote manufactured scientific controversies, anti-evolutionists, and the like– who deserve to be unelected and give campaign funds to their opponents.

I think this is a great idea, and one that’s long overdue. Having pro-science candidates isn’t something that will happen by accident, or (if you’ll pardon the pun) by natural selection. Putting some skin in the game goes a long way towards making sure the things that are important to you are being represented in your government. The anti-science forces have no qualms about doing this. I see no reason why the pro-science side should stay on the sidelines. I can understand the concern about undercutting the impartiality of science, but when one side is advocating lies and distortions, I don’t see how standing up for the truth is a problem.

And yes, I think it’s as important to target bad guys as it is to promote the good guys. Use the Texas Parent PAC, which has promoted pro-education candidates in both parties, as a model. They put themselves on the map by knocking off State Rep. Kent Grusendorf, the public education-hating chair of the House Education Committee, back in 2006, doing the state of Texas an enormous favor in the process. A pro-science PAC could do a lot more good next year by backing primary challengers to Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar for the State Board of Education, shifting to support Dunbar’s Democratic opponent in the general election if need be. Honestly, this is a no-brainer.

Now Mooney and Kirshenbaum are writing about a national PAC, presumably to affect Congressional races, but the point is the same, and frankly there’s no reason there couldn’t be a bunch of state PACs that take after a national PAC. And if you really are squeamish about raising money for candidates, you can always go the grassroots activism route, though you’ll still need to raise money for it. The bottom line is that the scientific community is operating at a disadvantage, and the sooner it realizes that, the better.

Oh, and if the SBOE’s latest hijinx is any indication, historians should be forming a PAC as well. Clearly, no academic discipline is safe as long as this clown show is on the air.

Five for SBOE 10

I think it’s safe to say the State Board of Education elections aren’t going to be the obscure affairs they’ve historically been any more. We know that now-former SBOE Chair Don McLeroy has drawn a high-profile primary challenger, and one of his chief cohorts in Crazytown, Cynthia Dunbar, has collected a total of five opponents, three Democrats and two Republicans. I was aware of two of the Democrats back in February (one of whom, Lorenzo Sadun, has now made his entry official), and now they have more company. SBOE 10 is pretty close to a 50-50 district, so this one should be quite the skirmish. With any luck at all, we could have a vastly saner Board of Ed in 2011. I sure hope so.

McLeroy gets a challenger

Paul Burka breaks the news that Thomas Ratliff, son of former State Sen. and Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, will challenge Don McLeroy, the now-former chair of the State Board of Education, for his seat on the board next year. From the press release, which Burka quotes in full:

On the heels of a legislative session that saw 15 bills filed by Republican and Democrat legislators to curtail some or all of the responsibilities of the State Board of Education, Thomas Ratliff has filed the necessary paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for the District 9 seat. The incumbent is Dr. Don McLeroy, whose nomination for chairman of the SBOE was recently rejected by the Texas Senate.

Mr. Ratliff said, “First, I want to thank Dr. McLeroy for his 10 years of service on the SBOE. I just simply have a different approach to working for the parents and schoolchildren of Texas. I am running because I want to work with educators and the other SBOE members to provide leadership for Texas’ neighborhood schools, help mend the fractured relationship with the Texas legislature and restore the public’s confidence in the State Board of Education.”

“The SBOE has become a distraction to our neighborhood schools and a liability to the Republican Party under the leadership of Dr. McLeroy. I strongly believe we need to take politics out of our kids’ education and the state board should refocus its efforts on the truly important issues facing parents, students and educators.”

I’ve noted before that McLeroy’s district is not fertile ground for a Democratic challenger, so I’m thrilled to see a sane Republican mount a primary campaign against McLeroy. That won’t be easy either, as McLeroy is a hero to the wingnut fringe, and they specialize in winning races like this one, which Burka notes in his post. Still, this probably represents the best hope to unseat McLeroy, and if the son is anything like the father, it would be a huge step forward for Texas. Keep an eye on this one. Greg has some general-election numbers, plus a nifty map, here.