Once again we see evidence that the Legislature made a huge mistake last spring by not letting Texas voters decide whether to strip the State Board of Education of authority over managing the Permanent School Fund. (Republican leaders in the state Senate helped kill that and a number of other SBOE reform bills.) It has become increasingly apparent that board decisions on curriculum and textbooks are influenced by political shenanigans over how to invest the $20+ billion in the PSF. See here and here for earlier posts on this. Now the San Antonio Express-News reports that board members at the center of those shenanigans are pointing fingers at others.
According to the story, board members David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, are accusing fellow board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas, of having a conflict of interest in decisions regarding PSF investments in real estate. Miller’s family runs the state’s largest independent real estate brokerage firm.
But this appears to us to be little more than blame-shifting and political mud-throwing on the part of Bradley and Agosto.
We have not always agreed with Miller’s votes on the state board, but she listens to all sides and has been a strong opponent of the far-right faction’s attempts to politicize public school classrooms in Texas. For example, she opposed efforts by board creationists earlier this year to require that students learn phony “weaknesses” of evolution in their science classrooms.
Regarding the PSF, the Express-News story notes some important facts. First, Miller opposed opening the PSF to real estate investments. She also abstained from discussing or voting on the board’s selection last fall of potential real estate investment firms. And the board’s legal adviser apparently doesn’t share the concerns raised by Bradley and Agosto.
The real issue here is that Miller has also been critical of what she sees as conflicts of interest for Agosto regarding board decisions on who to hire as the board’s PSF investment consultant. We have noted our own concerns that PSF decisions may have been behind Agosto’s votes with the board’s far-right faction on curriculum and textbook issues. Now Bradley — a leader of that faction — confirms the importance of Agosto’s support:
“The conservative faction of the board has been very effective on some very close votes, and Rick Agosto has been a part of that sometimes,” Bradley said. “(Miller) has resented him from the day he walked onto the board. He works with us.”
These kinds of political games could be avoided if the Legislature would let Texas voters put management of the PSF in the hands of true financial experts instead of SBOE politicians. Such a move would help assure parents that decisions about what their children learn in our public schools aren’t influenced by political games involving investment decisions. And it would help shield public servants like Miller from unfair accusations of conflicts of interest.