Today the Texas Senate unanimously confirmed Gov. Rick Perry’s appointment of Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, to a second term as chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). This is the first time since 2005 that the Senate has confirmed a Perry-appointed SBOE chair. The governor’s previous two appointees, creationists Don McLeroy and Gail Lowe, were so controversial and divisive that the Senate refused to confirm either one.
Cargill’s confirmation comes less than 10 days after state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, extracted a number of commitments from Cargill during a hearing before the Senate Nominations Committee. Under direct questioning from Sen. Watson:
- Cargill promised to support requiring an advanced degree or significant work experience, such as 10 years, in a related field for individuals serving as “expert” advisers on curriculum matters.
- She agreed to consider changes to the board’s rules and processes that would allow additional time for the public to review amendments board members want to make to proposed curriculum standards.
- She said she no longer asks educators and other individuals applying to serve on curriculum and textbook review teams whether they consider themselves “conservative.”
- She acknowledged that she was wrong when, shortly after her first appointment as chair in 2011, she characterized the divisions on the board as between six “conservative Christians” and the rest of her board colleagues.
- She said she would not pressure publishers to force alternative “theories” to evolution in science instructional materials.
A number of senators were wary of Cargill, who has been one of the board’s far-right culture warriors since winning election to her seat in 2004. But it became clear early in this legislative session that they were concerned Gov. Perry would appoint an even more divisive board chair this summer if Cargill were not confirmed. That appointment would not have been subject to Senate confirmation until the next time the Legislature was in session — probably 2013.
So now Cargill will oversee the SBOE’s adoption of textbooks and other instructional materials for science this year and social studies in 2014. The Texas Freedom Network will watch closely to see whether Cargill keeps the promises she made before her confirmation.