Barbara Cargill may soon become the first State Board of Education chair to earn confirmation from the Legislature since 2005.
With a vote expected later Monday or Tuesday, the Senate Nominations Committee on Monday questioned the Republican from The Woodlands on her leadership of the board that oversees the state's public education system.
During the hearing, Cargill emphasized her commitment to fairness. Under her tenure, she said, the at-times controversial board has "focused on the children" and avoided distractions.
"I like to run a tight meeting, I like to keep us focused, I don't mind banging the gavel," she said. "The press actually gets bored at our meetings now, which is wonderful."
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Cargill in July 2011 after Senate Democrats blocked the nomination of her predecessor Gail Lowe. Lowe followed former state board member Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, in the chairmanship. McLeroy also failed to be confirmed during the 2009 session. Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, the last chair to be confirmed by the Senate in 2005, served until 2007.
Much of Monday's hearing was devoted to questioning from the committee's only Democrat, Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who pressed Cargill on her views on transparency, the selection of experts to review curriculum standards, and the teaching of evolution.
"For those of use that look to you as the next chair, we can feel comfortable that your stated public position is that you are going to work to keep the State Board of Education out of the unnecessary controversies, and the unnecessary battles, and to be open and transparent in a way that everyone can be heard?" he asked.
Cargill, a former high school biology teacher, reiterated what she said at the opening of the hearing that "everyone on the board has value, everyone represents their constituents."
She acknowledged that prior to her time as chairwoman she had inquired about the political views of prospective experts selected to review curriculum standards, but she said she no longer did that.
"I don't ask that question anymore. I can say that there will not be a political litmus test for me in the future," she said.
Watson also asked Cargill, who was instrumental in a 2009 push for the state's new science standards requiring students to "analyze, evaluate and critique" all sides of evidence for scientific theories like evolution, to clarify remarks she made at a recent Senate Education hearing that appeared to advocate teaching scientific evidence that contradicts evolution.
She said that her statement was taken out of context. The beliefs behind creationism and intelligent design, she told the committee, did not belong in the classroom and were best "taught in church or the home."
"I will tell you in the introduction to all the science standards, it says that students should know that some questions are outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that aren't scientifically testable," she said.
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