Editorials

New education commissioner has tough job

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Dallas school board member Mike Morath, right, has been named by Gov. Greg Abbott to be the state’s next education commissioner.
Dallas school board member Mike Morath, right, has been named by Gov. Greg Abbott to be the state’s next education commissioner. Dallas Morning News

Barring any surprises, Texas now knows who its next education commissioner will be.

He’s Mike Morath, 38, a Dallas investor who has served on that city’s school board since 2011.

Gov. Greg Abbott named Morath Monday to succeed Michael Williams, the commissioner since 2012. Williams has said he will step down Jan. 1.

Becoming the new commissioner will put Morath in charge of the Texas Education Agency and its 874 authorized employees, administering a $27 billion annual budget that helps fund 1,200 school districts and charters with a combined 4.9 million students.

That’s a heavy load. Morath deserves the benefit of the doubt on how well and in what direction he can carry it.

Some educator groups are wary. Morath once taught a computer science class at Garland High School part-time, but that doesn’t make him a teacher, nor does serving on a school board.

It’s been a long time since a career educator ran TEA (Shirley J. Neeley, 2004-2007).

Morath comes with baggage, as far as some educators are concerned. He championed an effort to turn Dallas ISD into a “home rule” district, enabling it to bypass many state regulations, until that move collapsed almost a year ago.

In a statement released with the governor’s announcement, Morath bowed to educators when he said he has “watched with amazement the tremendous skill and love our teachers and staff pour into our students every day.”

He also said he will bring to the commissioner’s office “a focus on improving student outcomes.”

That’s a good thing when it means improving graduation rates, college and career readiness, minority achievement gaps and any number of other student and school performance measures.

But for some in the push for school reform over the past dozen years, a focus on outcomes is also code for economizing on “inputs” in the education process — mainly money.

The distinction will be crucial over the next year. The state Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit, backed by more than half of Texas’ school districts, in which an Austin judge said there is not enough money in the public school finance system.

If the Supreme Court agrees, the Legislature will have to devise a new funding system, and the commissioner will play a key support role in shaping the debate’s ideological underpinnings.

Morath is about to become Abbott’s education guy, which gives him a lot of weight. Almost 5 million students give him a heavy responsibility.

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