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TESCCC, CSCOPE governing board, holds first open meeting

One of the first big changes in CSCOPE, the controversial, taxpayer-funded curriculum currently used in more than 70% of Texas schools, occurred Monday as the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC), CSCOPE’s governing board, held its first public meeting.

This change comes in response to increased public awareness and a contentious Jan. 31 legislative hearing that prompted Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to tell program administrators “they’d be grounded if they were an airline.”

Monday’s meeting took place at the Education Service Center (ESC) Region 13 facility in Austin with participants comprising personnel from the state’s 20 ESCs.  Agenda items were largely response points for changes agreed upon after the Senate hearing.

Open meeting legal compliance and rules were discussed including those for a public forum which, noted by officials, is not required by law, but a courtesy being extended to the public.

Revisions to the Terms of Use and District User License agreements were discussed with language threatening civil or criminal penalties for releasing CSCOPE content approved for removal.

Public access to CSCOPE materials was a major topic at both the hearing and at Monday’s meeting.  The board discussed the CSCOPE web site’s current configuration in which lesson content cannot be segregated from unit assessments and answer keys.  Work is underway with vendor 3rd Learning to implement those changes yet a timeline in which the site will be better organized for non-teacher access has yet to be identified.

Board members emphasized that parental access to content has always and continues to be available through local school districts.

Dissolution of the 501(c)(3) incorporating CSCOPE was discussed with plans to consult legal counsel approved.  At the hearing, Patrick challenged the need for such a structure by questioning the point of forming a nonprofit with no employees (all employees affiliated with CSCOPE are paid by Texas taxpayers) and no money running through it?

At the hearing, Wade Labay, CSCOPE state director who offices at the ESC Region 13 facility, testified being unaware that most government agencies are nonprofit per legislative statute.

CSCOPE attorneys previously argued that despite being taxpayer-funded, the organization operates like a private corporation thus exempting it from public information disclosures.  The Texas Attorney General instead ruled that TESCCC is a governmental body with the discretion to release public information.

When discussing the nonprofit, TESCCC chair Anne Poplin described it as looking “to be an act of avoiding transparency although we know it wasn’t.”

Creation of a standing curriculum review panel made up of parents, teachers, school administrators, SBOE and TESCCC board members was another change announced in response to the legislative hearing.  At Monday’s meeting, the TESCCC board approved a motion calling for a review panel of three TESCCC and three SBOE members to review lessons deemed appropriate by the committee and starting with social studies exemplar – or example – lessons.

Discussions regarding the 2011-12 Audited Closing Budget, the 2012-13 Budget and year-to-date revenue and expenditures took place, but were difficult to follow as distribution of agenda attachments containing specific financial information was only to meeting participants, not general public or taxpayer attendees.

During the meeting’s public forum section, curriculum concerns were addressed by education activist Ginger Russell and Dr. Stan Hartzler, a former math teacher and invited testifier at the Senate committee hearing.

Colleen Vera, a retired teacher and education activist, discussed transparency pointing out TESCCC board members receiving agenda item attachments in an information packet, but “we (those attending the meeting) don’t have that benefit.”

Peggy Venable, Texas Director of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and also an invited Senate hearing testifier, told board members “you have betrayed public trust by the manner in which CSCOPE was introduced and with the 501(c)(3).”

Agreeing with Vera’s transparency comments, she said “you haven’t done much more in this meeting” emphasizing the public’s right to see the audit reports and budgets discussed.

Regarding curriculum review, she reminded the board how the SBOE has a textbook review process that has been used for years and she sees no place in TESCCC’s recommended curriculum review process for public participation.  “Not just parents – the public – people who are paying for it,” she said.  “It’s the public who has a right to know; it’s our dollars being used to educate kids.”

The TESCCC board identified April 8 as its next meeting date, however, may meet in March if pending information becomes available.  Notice of the meeting will be posted at the Texas Secretary of State’s web site as well as at every ESC site.

Lou Ann Anderson

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist. As a contributor at Raging Elephants Radio and Examiner Austin, she writes and speaks on a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the creator and online producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses probate abuse via wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney as well as other taxpayer advocacy issues.

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