Updated at 1 p.m. with official statement from Gov. Perry
Gov. Rick Perry has named Michael Williams, a former chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, to the state’s top education post, according to sources who have been contacted by Perry’s office.
Williams, who served in the U.S. Department of Education under President George H.W. Bush, assumes leadership of the Texas Education Agency during a time of political, legal and financial tumult.
He will have to contend immediately with school finance litigation that goes to trial this fall; battles over a controversial standardized testing system; a continuing budget crunch; and an in-depth review of the agency by the Legislature.
Despite Williams’ previous experience Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C., he has not been actively involved in education policy in Texas. His primary policy expertise has centered on energy issues. The Texas Railroad Commission regulates the oil and gas industry.
Williams was thrice elected statewide after being appointed to the Railroad Commission by Gov. George W. Bush in 1998. Last year, he resigned from the Railroad Commission to join the crowded field seeking the GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination but later opted to run for U.S. Congress. He lost in the May primary.
Robert Scott, the previous commissioner, left the agency last month after five years at the helm. He made waves last winter by saying publicly that the school testing system had become of a “perversion” of its original intent.
Perry also announced on Monday that Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds will serve as chief deputy commissioner, Williams’ number two. Reynolds has been a deputy commissioner at TEA since 2007.
In a statement, Perry said that “high standards and accountable public schools are essential to our state’s future success, and no two people understand that better than Michael and Lizzette.”
“Michael’s pioneering leadership in both public and private sectors, combined with Lizzette’s nearly two decades of public education experience guiding and implementing statewide reforms create a powerful and dynamic team that will fortify our state’s public education system,” Perry added.
Williams has long been a vocal advocate of vouchers, saying that it is a civil rights issue for African-American children. He could serve as an important ally for conservative lawmakers who plan to push for a private school voucher program in the next legislative session.
“The opponents of school choice have been more interested in protecting the bureaucratic status quo of failing public schools than helping as many children as possible receive a quality education,” Williams said in 1998, according to a news release from the Heartland Institute.
TAB Reaction to the naming of Michael Williams as Education Commissioner
Category: Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Bill Hammond
August 27, 2012
Statement on the Appointment of Michael Williams
TAB Strongly Supports Williams as the New Education Commissioner
AUSTIN, TX— The following statement may be attributed to Bill Hammond, President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.
“TAB applauds the appointment of Michael Williams, who is a rock solid conservative. We look forward to working with him to maintain and improve Texas’ world class accountability system,” said Texas Association of Business President and CEO Bill Hammond. “In his many years of public service he’s shown a steadfast commitment to the people of Texas. We believe he is uniquely qualified to lead perhaps the most important agency in state government.”
Founded in 1922, the Texas Association of Business is a broad-based, bipartisan organization representing more than 3,000 small and large Texas employers and 200 local chambers of commerce.