This is a question employers grapple with on an almost daily basis.
Weighing whether an employee can be retrained or should be let go is a topic that human resources departments spend hours of training upon, yet it appears that Governor Abbott never considers the issue despite Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s continued bumbling with things like hiring a special education commissioner, distribution of federal Covid funding to schools, and as we see this week, a continued failure to provide adequate infrastructure for online testing.
Tuesday morning, as students logged into the STAAR online testing system, ETS, the vendor which provides the system, reported a statewide outage. Despite attempts to get the platform back online, testing was eventually canceled that day, and students had to be rescheduled, as no waiver to testing has ever been offered by the Texas Education Agency. Press releases from TEA comment that the test “doesn’t count” in an attempt to mitigate the backlash, but they leave out the fact that graduation requirements for students taking the End of Course tests have not been waived, meaning that there are seniors in these tests scheduled to graduate in a little over a month if they can pass the test which was canceled. While public educators and parents had all pushed for canceling the test as a waste of 90 million dollars during the pandemic, doing so the day of the test and leaving students stressed and unsure of what is to come was not part of that request. Mr. Morath refused to consider the wishes of the professionals and the parents, resolutely pushing forward with the test and failing to apply for the federal waiver offered for it, insisting that gaps needed to be identified even though all districts have platforms for determining such gaps already.
Mr. Morath also unilaterally re-allocated funding provided by the federal government for Covid relief to public school districts by reducing state funding by an equal amount. This information was provided by TEA in a training to district-provided online on June 11, 2020. Now, Mr. Morath has convinced legislators that the same needs to be done with the next round of relief money designated for schools. Legislators whose campaign platforms include mentioning that money needs to make it to the classroom are very close to again diverting billions of needed dollars away from districts and to their own pet projects.
Despite the proven history of a failure in leadership at the Texas Education Agency, bills like Senate Bill 28 (Bettencourt) would give even more power to the education commissioner by removing the ability of the elected State Board of Education to provide oversight to the approval of charter schools within the boundaries of school districts and granting Mr. Morath, an unelected official appointed by the governor, unilateral power to approve such endeavors. Another bill, also proposed by Bettencourt, would establish the office of Inspector General within the Texas Education Agency, giving them legal authority to conduct criminal investigations and taking the responsibility away from the Texas Rangers.
One has to ask what purpose is served by turning the entity that was designed to support public schools into one which conducts criminal investigations into them. Why would more unilateral power be given to someone for whom no voter has voted? It would make more sense to provide the oversight originally designed for the office by placing it back under the purview of the State Board of Education, thereby following the same model that school districts use to ensure that the people’s voice is heard and that a local superintendent doesn’t have too much unilateral power. Instead, Senator Bettencourt proposes that local control be stripped away and that authority granted to a single person, in this case, one who has demonstrated that he cannot handle the current job description.
A government closer to the people is a better government. It is shameful that the kind of incompetence demonstrated by Mr. Morath is tolerated by Austin in the name of an agenda intending to consolidate state power and strip local municipalities and voters of their voice. This voter calls for the Texas legislature to step up, vote down these bills, and provide more oversight for the Texas Education Commissioner by placing the position back under the control of the State Board of Education rather than the Governor’s office.