An extended drama over a controversial curriculum tool used by Texas public schools took a new turn Wednesday as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst entered the fray with a letter to the State Board of Education and a key state senator pushed to add the issue to the special session agenda.
“We were all told that our CSCOPE problems were behind us,” Dewhurst said in the letter. “Over the past few weeks I have learned this could not be further from the truth.”
The statement could be interpreted as swipe at state Sen. Dan Patrick, one of Dewhurst's 2014 Republican primary opponents. Near the end of the recently concluded regular session, Patrick declared the "end of an era" for the CSCOPE lessons, which grassroots activists have relentlessly pushed to eliminate because of a perceived liberal, anti-American agenda. At the time, Patrick, R-Houston, announced that the coalition of state-run education service centers that develops the lessons had agreed to stop producing them.
In fundraising emails for his recently launched campaign for lieutenant governor, Patrick, who did not respond to requests for comment, has highlighted his role in ending CSCOPE as an example of the “clear and conservative agenda” for the Texas school system he has advanced as chairman of the education committee.
But questions to Texas Education Agency officials during a state education board meeting last week revealed there was nothing keeping existing lessons from making their way into classrooms because they are now in the public domain. The news provided relief to administrators from primarily smaller, rural school districts that rely on CSCOPE for lesson plans who said losing them would create a financial strain as they struggle to find alternatives. But it prompted outrage from other SBOE members who said they believed lawmakers had already resolved the CSCOPE issues.
In his letter to the state board, Dewhurst joined those expressing their dismay, saying he was "deeply troubled" that the state's public schools may continue to use the lessons. The board is already set to address confusion over CSCOPE at a Sept. 18 meeting, but in the letter, Dewhurst urged the board to hold a hearing sooner so that it could help districts find ways to avoid using the lessons or to “at least provide transparency for parents and local voters to know what their local districts are using to educate their children.”
Patrick responded late Wednesday afternoon with a press release asking Gov. Rick Perry to add legislation banning the use of CSCOPE lessons to the special session agenda. In the release, Patrick said he also thought the issue had been resolved.
Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry, said in a statement that it was "premature to talk about adding to the call" until the Legislature finished its current business.
Though used in some part by 70 percent of Texas school districts, the curriculum system is little known outside of the education community. It has been the focus of discussion at state education board meetings and at extensive legislative hearings, where parents have claimed the lesson plans promote Islam, socialism and environmentalism.
Other commonly cited examples of liberal bias include a world history question that asked sixth-grade students to draw a flag for a socialist nation using symbolism and one that asked students to consider whether the Boston Tea Party was a terrorist act from the perspective of the British.
Following last week’s state education board meeting, Patrick said in a post on Facebook that he disagreed with the conclusion that the law did not prohibit districts from continuing to use the lessons, and that he would check into it further.
He also noted that along with the Texas attorney general’s office, he had requested an official state audit of the program.
"After months of research, once again with the tireless help of the grassroots, it appears that CSCOPE may have spent millions of dollars outside of normal government rules and regulations," he said.
In his letter, Dewhurst also said he had requested an audit of CSCOPE's finances.
Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican who is the vice chairman of the state board, said its members did not have the authority to dictate which lesson plans districts can and cannot use. He said he knew of hundreds of districts planning to use CSCOPE for the upcoming school year and is encouraging them to do so.
"They've paid for these lessons, they've helped develop these lessons and they cover the Texas standards," Ratliff said. "Other than a few specific examples that were taken out of proportion, I don't understand why districts can't use them."
Whether school districts use CSCOPE lesson plans is now out of the state's hands, said Alice Linahan, a Texas mother and conservative activist who rallied against schools' use of the lessons.
She said she expects some parents to file injunctions to prevent districts from teaching CSCOPE in school this coming school year.
"I think a lot of people thought parents were just going to go away and trust like we always have," Linahan said. "The victims of that backdoor philosophy of education are our children, and parents are seeing it because kids come home crying. Parents are not going to go away."