This has been an eventful week for me with the completion of the combination of the Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER), which I have chaired for the past 10 years, with Texans for Education Reform (TER), a partner with which we share common objectives for Texas public education, to form Texas Aspires. We believe this combination will add significant value to the education reform effort to the benefit of Texas children and I want to share the news with subscribers to The Texas Pilgrim. Below is an article from The Quorum Report by Kimberly Reeves describing the affiliation. As always, I appreciate your feedback.
August 18, 2016 1:16 PM
Texans for Education Reform merges with Texas Institute for Education Reform
The two groups join forces to become Texas Aspires
Texas Aspires was announced today, the merger of the Texas Institute for Education Reform and the well-funded Texans for Education Reform.
The merger gets rid of the frequent question – which one is TIER and which one is TER? – but it also shifts the deck to create a more conciliatory education reform effort in Texas. Courtney Boswell, who currently leads TIER and formerly led TER, has been named executive director.
Jim Windham of TIER and Woody Hunt of TER will serve as co-chairs for the new Texas Aspires.
“Utilizing our collective strength, Texas Aspires will be a powerful catalyst for change in Texas education,” Woody Hunt said. “We can’t wait to get to work and take on the challenge of championing greater opportunity for Texas students in our P-16 system.”
This also reunites Boswell with her former boss Sen. Florence Shapiro, a key architect of the current school accountability system and chair of the Senate Education Committee for a decade before she retired in 2013. Other board members include former Education Secretary Rod Paige and former education Commissioner Michael Williams.
In the shorthand of the traditional education lobby, TER was often tied to the powerful Texans for Lawsuit Reform, sharing common lobbyists. Organizers dismissed the connection, but TER often was seen as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s close ally and a big spender in election politics.
More than anything, Texans for Education Reform was known for its high-dollar spending on lobby contracts. According to the Texas Ethics Commission, TER carried almost two-dozen contracts with lobbyists during the 84th legislative session, the most of effective of which was Jarrad Toussant, the one-time leader of Cory Booker’s education strategies in Newark. Toussant now works for Educate Texas.
TER often appeared to have difficulty landing on a consistent education agenda, often led more by gimmick than principle. The organization stabilized under former gubernatorial aide Julie Linn, who departed last year to join the Great Hearts Texas charter school network. Linn also will serve on the board for Texas Aspires.
The Texas Institute for Education Reform has a longer history and a smaller footprint, spearheaded by, among others, Houston businessman and former Texas Public Policy Foundation board memberJim Windham. TIER has a history of alliances with the Texas Business Leadership Council and theTexas Association of Business.
“Texas Aspires will focus on putting students first, serving as a unified voice for their interests in Austin,” Windham said. “We will advocate for policies that increase student outcomes, involve parents and educators, and create meaningful improvements in the classroom.”
Where Texas Aspires lands politically appears to be closer to TIER than TER, from the video the organization posted on its new website. The organization rolls out more of its vision next week.
Texas Aspires provides something of a counterpoint for Raise Your Hand Texas, which also has been staffing up in recent months after the departure of executive director David Anthony, who championed the recent districts of innovation legislation.
High-profile additions include Ann Smisko, David Anderson and Amanda Brownson. All three have played roles in the Texas Education Agency. Smisko, most recently deputy superintendent in Dallas ISD, will serve as deputy director of policy and programs.
By Kimberly Reeves