UT Regents, education, gun control, and more
Dewhurst Says "Horns Down" to UT Regents
The cold war between UT President Bill Powers and the UT Board of Regents heated up this week when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst accused the regents of "character assassination." The surprising outburst from the normally taciturn Dewhurst came as the Senate approved Senate Resolution 234, offering Powers "sincere appreciation for his outstanding leadership." In a highly emotional personal privilege speech, Dewhurst praised Powers' achievement, but accused the regents of undercutting Powers and "going to deans and trying to micromanage the system." Obliquely inferring that there had been personal attacks on Powers' wife and daughter, Dewhurst tearfully said, "This man deserves better than he's getting." He later suggested that lawmakers may examine and possibly limit the roles and powers of the regents this session. Dewhurst's speech creates an interesting tension, since the regents are appointed by – and are often seen as speaking for – Gov. Rick Perry. That could spell trouble for Perry's latest regent nominees (to the Texas State University System) – financier and SWBC co-founder Charlie Amato, rancher turned conservative education expert Vernon Reaser III, and Trans-Global Solutions Inc. CEO Bill Scott – when they come before the Senate for confirmation.
An Infinity of Charters
On Feb. 18, charter champion and Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick filed Senate Bill 2, which would remove the cap on the number of charter licenses (currently, they are limited by state law to 215). School districts already concerned about charters poaching their students and funds may have even more to fear: SB2 would give charters access to state construction funds and force districts to sell or lease underused campuses and buildings to charters for as little as $1. Patrick's draft contains many other clauses that are raising eyebrows, such as removing charters from State Board of Education oversight. The Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators have both criticized the plan.
An Evolving View of Creationism
Perry nominee Barbara Cargill inches closer to becoming the first State Board of Education chair to be confirmed by the Senate since 2005. On Feb. 18 the Senate Nominations Committee recommended her confirmation, in spite of concerns that she backs "teaching the controversy" about evolution, and regularly cited David Barton – conservatives' favorite creationist historian. Cargill was only appointed chair by Perry in 2011 when the Senate rejected her predecessor, Gail Lowe, who followed the similarly rejected Don McLeroy.
Tenth Amendment in One Hand, AK in the Other
Freshman Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, has filed a bill to stop the enforcement of potential new federal gun control laws. House Bill 1076, which Toth calls the Firearm Protection Act, would cut state funds to any governmental entity enforcing a ban on semiautomatic weapons or size limits for magazines. He may want to put the safety back on: It seems increasingly unlikely that Congress will pass any meaningful firearms legislation this session. Moreover, the executive actions signed by President Barack Obama contain such tepid proposals as reviewing gun lock standards and asking the Centers for Disease Control to explore the causes of gun violence.