State Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) has filed House Bill 613 that would put the Texas Commissioner of Education on the ballot.
The bill amends Texas Education Code to read: “The commissioner of education is elected by the qualified voters at the general election for state and county officers.”
The governor has appointed the Texas Commissioner of Education for seventy years. Texas Education Code sets the commissioner’s four-year term as “commensurate with the term of the governor.” The current commissioner, Mike Morath, has made headlines for intervening in local districts suffering from academic failure, mismanagement, and budget bloat.
In his past career as a Dallas ISD trustee, Morath also spearheaded home-rule reform, an idea that earned him the support of Mayor Mike Rawlings and the ire of teachers’ unions. The yet-untested initiative aims to model traditional independent school districts (ISDs) after charter schools, an idea supported by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Hinojosa’s idea harks back to the older form of the position. Once called the state superintendent of public instruction, the office of Texas Commissioner of Education was a statewide elected office until 1950.
While the office exerts considerable influence, it usually must cooperate with the State Board of Education (SBOE) and its reach touches the classroom at only a few points.
The commissioner sets guidelines for school districts’ fiscal management and can spur the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to intervene in districts that suffer from mismanagement, a power that Morath has exercised in San Antonio and Houston.
He handles teacher recruitment, adopts the processes for appraising the job performance of teachers and administrators, and evaluates childcare programs including Pre-K.
Importantly, the commissioner determines the money per student that districts spend on technology and teaching materials, and he “may provide for reductions in the number of [TEA] employees.”
Most other matters that affect the classroom fall under the purview of the SBOE.
In past years, Morath appointed conservators at Edgewood ISD and Harlandale ISD in San Antonio, citing corruption and poor governance for closer state monitoring of the districts.
Earlier this year, a Travis County District Judge blocked Morath from taking over Houston ISD’s school board, with Morath citing “a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy” as cause for state intervention.
Notably, Morath allowed schools to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year without a mask mandate.
Hinojosa’s bill would not likely wrest the office from the grip of Republicans. The bill places it alongside the offices of railroad commissioner, commissioner of agriculture, commissioner of the General Land Office, comptroller of public accounts, and attorney general — all statewide elected positions held by Republicans.
Hinojosa has not responded for comment at the time of publishing.
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