Testimony Before the Select Committee on Constitutional Revision

Mr. Chairman, Committee members, I am here today to give my and my organization’s strong support to an elected State Board of Education with enhanced authority and full control of the Permanent School Fund.

In 1987, the voters of Texas overwhelmingly voted in favor of an elected SBOE and it appears to voters that at times the legislature continues to ask the same question until they get the answer they want. I trust the members of this committee are here with no agenda and are simply addressing the concerns you have heard from some members of the legislature.

I am representing the 48,000 members of Texas CSE – these are voters who recognize that our form of government, though not perfect, is far superior to any alternatives. Simply put, democracy works. And the checks and balances in the system are necessary for it to work.

In 1995 when SB 1 was passed, some of those checks and balances were eliminated. We have heard some elected officials stating publicly the need to elected a “moderate SBOE” or the legislature “will need to take action”.

Representing 48,000 voters – I will strongly state our position that we do not elect representatives to come to Austin or to Washington, DC, for that matter, to “get along” and to compromise. We elect them to represent our often disparate views on issues. Education is one of the most important issues to Texas voters – and also one in which we have many differing views and perspectives. Simply put, we do not elect an SBOE to come to Austin to “play nicely in the sandbox.” We elect them to represent our disparate views.

As a sidebar, I might note that we don’t consider eliminating the Legislature or the Congress – or our City Councils for that matter – if they hold heated debates. Let’s not use the fact that the SBOE has a very important and sometimes controversial job to recommend eliminating an elected board and going to an appointed SBOE.

Education is important to us – as voters, as parents, as taxpayers – and we expect elected officials to represent us in the decision-making process.

I understand you are also addressing whether or not the SBOE should oversee the Permanent School Fund. The fund was created to be perpetual and in the wisdom of our forefathers, they specified that the fund’s corpus should not be spent. In managing the fund, the SBOE has done an admirable job.

Let’s put it in perspective – a school fund was created in 1854 to provide instructional materials for Texas public school students. But legislators diverted some funds to pay for other programs and 20 years later, the legislature in its wisdom, created the Permanent School Fund (PSF) and protected the fund so money could not be diverted. The PSF was built on an initial appropriation of $2 million derived from the General Land Office through the sale of land and oil leases. For almost a century and a half, Texas has been a model of fiscal discipline, forethought and responsibility in the way it has managed the fund, protecting it from special interests, pork-barrel politics, stock market crashes and economic recessions. Texans should be proud…and we should be smart enough to leave well enough alone.

We need to put the SBOE backing control. The facts point to this: the PSF continues to outperform the PUF, TRS, and ERS.

So one might ask: why are we even here discussing this today? It could be because the system is broken – it was broken with passage of SB 1. Thank you for opening the door for these much-needed changes.

We need to restore the SBOE’s role in recommending the Commissioner candidates to the Governor. The SBOE needs to have the support of TEA, not the opposition of those within the bureaucracy who do not appreciate the role of the elected body or of parents.

In closing, I will make two observations on behalf of the voters I work for and talk to daily. First, we have concern that this is all about two things: money and power. And some legislators want the power to get to the $20 billion PSF. With a potential $5 billion shortfall in our $116 billion budget, some legislators are salivating over the prospect of having access to that fund as a means to cover a shortfall or increase spending without raising taxes. The voters of Texas will not take kindly to that.

Second, we have other concerns about some of the power taken from the SBOE such as that given to the State Board of Educator Certification. Though many members of that board are well-intentioned, they made a serious error when they rewrote the educator code of ethics and wrote parents out. Parents now have no defined role in our children’s education, and though SBOE members expressed significant concern when SBEC brought the matter to them for approval, the SBOE could only vote it up or down – they did not have the authority to make modifications or recommendations. The SBOE are our elected representatives and we as voters deserve to have our elected representatives with the authority to do their job. We should together be looking for ways to untie their hands and give them more, not less authority.

Mind you, these dedicated SBOE members serve at no pay (unlike the “big bucks” legislators earn!). But seriously, they have no staff and they have districts twice the size of any Congressional or state senate district. Yet those of us who have interest in education know them and expect them to represent us in education policymaking.

I hope you will make recommendations to your colleagues who will enhance the role SBOE has and will protect the PSF for generations to come.

Thank you for your time.