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Patrick, Ratliff debate CSCOPE Saturday

By Glenn Evans
Aug. 22, 2013 at 10 p.m.

The eyes of political Texas will be on Tyler this Saturday as advocates on each side of a controversial school curriculum square off.

"I believe that to be true," longtime Texas political observer Harvey Kronberg said of the debate in the Ornelas Center between Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Bill Ratliff, the State Board of Education member for Northeast Texas.

"Dan Patrick is a well-known state senator and a candidate for lieutenant governor, and he has thrown down the gauntlet. And Thomas Ratliff's from your neighborhood and comes from a respected family. And they have agreed to make this a meaningful political conversation rather than a series of talking points," Kronberg said.

Saturday's debate over the online CSCOPE curriculum guide has been brewing for months in the Texas Capitol and in cyberspace.

Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and a tea party favorite, took the lead during the recent legislative session to have lessons within the online curriculum guide taken offline.

The state education service centers, which produced CSCOPE in 2006, agreed to take down the lessons by Aug. 31.

Some of the 1,600 lessons became flash points, including ones asking students to design a flag for an imaginary socialist country and having them consider the Boston Tea Party from all points of view - even King George's.

Ratliff, a moderate Republican who grew increasingly vocal as CSCOPE attacks escalated since January, defends the curriculum guide as a productive tool for new teachers and smaller districts that don't have curriculum directors.

Both sides say they've got the numbers to back their opposing stances.

For Ratliff's part, the Mount Pleasant resident spent much of the past week uploading documents from the Texas Education Agency and other state sources he plans to use Saturday. Ratliff also plans to make those documents available to the public, via the Dropbox information sharing website, once the debate begins.

"I want people to see the truth about what's going on," Ratliff said. "And it's the over-politicization of a curriculum that has helped hundreds of school districts across the state. This is not about me defending CSCOPE. This is about me defending school districts' ability to make that choice, not Austin politicians."

Patrick did not respond to daily requests since Tuesday to comment for this story. He has issued no recent public statements on either his Facebook profile or campaign website, but was quoted Aug. 7 in the Dallas Morning News.

"The CSCOPE curriculum was an ill-conceived program, shrouded in secrecy," Patrick told the Dallas newspaper. "When I shined the light on it during the legislative session, it could not withstand close scrutiny."

The internet has sizzled during the past few months with anti-CSCOPE arguments on right-wing email lists. Those have increased in frequency, with Ratliff's ties to client Microsoft a common criticism. Ratliff is a registered lobbyist, while Microsoft makes the microchips that power the Windows operating system.

"CSCOPE was not built on, nor does it reside on, the Windows platform," Ratliff said. "CSCOPE is accessible by anything that gets internet access. How districts choose to access it is far beyond TEA or the SBOE. And I have never contacted any ISD about any type of purchasing decision," he said.

Emails circulating among CSCOPE opponents note Ratliff's pay from Microsoft jumped from the under - $50,000 category to the under $100,000 category in 2011. That was the year Senate Bill 6 was enacted, the law authorizing the "...purchase of instructional materials and technological equipment for public schools," according to the bill heading.

CSCOPE opponents say Ratliff lobbied for SB 6 on behalf of Microsoft, resulting in the increased pay that year.

Ratliff says he did not lobby for the bill.

"It's absolutely false, No. 1," he said. "No. 2, my income didn't change with Microsoft. What changed was the percentage of my work responsibilities falling in the definition of lobbying. What (Microsoft) wanted me to do fell into the lobbying category. I never have, never will, have never once represented Microsoft to TEA or the (State) Board (of Education) - even before I was on the board."

The state legislature's website does not list Ratliff among witnesses who spoke to House and Senate committees during 2011 public hearings on the measure.



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