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Perry gives another middle finger to public education

It’s a twofer, actually. Here’s one.

Gov. Rick Perry named Michael Williams the new commissioner of the Texas Education Agency Monday.

A fixture of Texas Republican politics — and a former general counsel to the Republican Party of Texas — Williams resigned from the Texas Railroad Commission in 2011 after serving more than a decade on the regulatory body that oversees the state’s oil and natural gas industry.

His appointment comes at a trying time for the agency, which lost a third of its workforce after budget cuts last year. Amid anxiety from parents, educators and administrators — and backlash from lawmakers — over its transition to a rigorous new assessment and accountability system, the state is facing six lawsuits over the way it funds public schools. More than half of Texas public schools failed to meet yearly benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind Act, but the state remains one of the handful that have yet to seek a waiver from the requirements from the federal government. The agency will also begin the Sunset Review process in October.

Williams, who began his career as an assistant district attorney in Midland, has recently been known as a political candidate. After showing early interest in replacing Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate, he campaigned for the congressional district now held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. Williams lost the Republican primary to Wes Riddle and fellow onetime U.S. Senate candidate Roger Williams, who ultimately prevailed in a runoff.

When then-Gov. George W. Bush named Williams to the commission in 1999, he became the first African-American to hold a statewide elected position. The Midland native’s career in GOP politics began during the Ronald Reagan administration, when he served as a prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Education, a legal position that is his only official previous experience in the realm of education policy.

So Williams has no education experience, but he is severely conservative and he needed a job, so Perry was there to lend him a hand. I guess just because one hates government doesn’t mean one wants to leave it and find a job in that private free-enterprise system we’ve all heard about. Williams is also a proponent of vouchers, but I’m sure he’ll put aside his long-held political beliefs and do his very best to help make public schools the best they can be. What else would we expect from a Rick Perry appointee, after all?

And here’s two:

Perry simultaneously named Lizzette Reynolds, a veteran of the agency who is currently a deputy commissioner, as Williams’ second in command. Reynolds attracted controversy in 2007 when she allegedly pushed to fire the agency’s then-science director Chris Comer for forwarding an email critical of intelligent design in violation of an internal neutrality policy. After Comer was forced to resign, the agency drew national scrutiny that included an editorial in The New York Times.

Forrest Wilder digs up some news from the time on this contretemps, and I blogged about it here, here, here, and here. Being a teacher or other employee of the public schools who supports Rick Perry is like being a chicken who supports Colonel Sanders. EoW and BOR have more, and a statement from Rep. Jessica Farrar is beneath the fold.

Statement from Rep. Farrar regarding Michael Williams appointment to the Texas Education Agency

AUSTIN – “I do not know what serving twelve years as Railroad Commissioner and two attempts at federal office have to do with knowledge about Texas public schools. But, I do know that being friends with Governor Perry seems to mean one is never out of a job for long. If I was starting up an oil and gas company in Texas, I might call Michael Williams to run it. But, I would never think to call Michael Williams to try to run Texas’ public schools. Should this appointment occur, let it be known once again that the educational system in Texas is at pivotal point, and Texans can not afford to hold on-the-job training classes for the person in charge.”

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