Williams for Education Commissioner: Uh, Why?

Former Railroad Commissioner an inexplicable choice to lead schools

Michael Williams: Pro-charter, pro-voucher, now heading up Texas schools
Michael Williams: Pro-charter, pro-voucher, now heading up Texas schools

Welcome to the era of Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. No, do not adjust your television screens, this is really happening.

Gov. Rick Perry's decision to give the failed congressional candidate the top job at the TEA has baffled everyone. Just to cut to the chase, Williams is the least qualified education commissioner on record. Traditionally, it has been a seat held by former superintendents or, as with his predecessor Robert Scott, a TEA insider. Not a former railroad commissioner with zero education experience beyond a blanket commitment to vouchers and charter schools. When Williams ran for the 25th Congressional District, his campaign website is devoid of any real mention of education: His biography deals solely with his time on the Railroad Commission: And his issues page talked about big government, border security, healthcare reform and the auto-bailout. The only reference to any education connection is buried at the bottom of his extended bio, where it notes that he was Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education under Pres. George H.W. Bush - a legal post, not a policy or leadership position.

Cue the attempts to make this look like a good appointment. The editorial board of the Austin American Statesman – which endorsed Williams for Congress – said people should "give [Williams] the benefit of the doubt," and tried to put a positive spin on it by saying his new assistant commissioner, Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds, should bring the experience he lacks (thus begging the question, why not make her commissioner?) Even Williams' home town Midland Reporter-Telegram was politely tepid, suggesting that he should surround himself with good staff. The best that Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, could muster up was that he has "ability and vision." Hell, even the TEA managed only the mildest of hurrahs with a statement from Chief Deputy Commissioner Todd Webster that “We congratulate Michael Williams on his appointment as commissioner of education. Texas Education Agency staff members stand ready to help the new commissioner in any way possible as he transitions to this new job."

The Texas School Teachers Association issued a statement that they were "disappointed that Gov. Rick Perry – at a pivotal time for Texas public schools – didn’t choose an education professional as the next State Commissioner of Education." The Texas AFT was a little more circumspect, noting that Williams "is on the rebound from a failed U.S. congressional candidacy in the May 29 Republican primary" and that his appointment is still subject to Senate approval. However, behind the scenes, education leaders are being less circumspect: One called Williams' appointment "a sock right in the eye" for Texas teachers.

So why the appointment? Williams has long been a GOP favorite, even though he is widely regarded as somewhere between 'quirky' and 'a complete goofball.' The generous assessment is that, with Texas being sued left, right and center over its public school finance system, and the accountability system a bust, they'll need a lawyer at the helm. But with Republicans like presumed future Senate Education Committee chair Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, expected to try to ram school vouchers through next session, what could be more useful than an amenable yes man like Williams?

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Texas Education Agency, Michael Williams, Robert Scott, Education Commissioner

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