New Ed Commissioner Michael Williams talks Texas schools
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Sporting his boisterous laugh and the bow tie he's come to be known for, newly-appointed State Education Commissioner Michael Williams says he has the background to take the agency into the future.
"It's an opportunity for somebody who knows how to run and lead complicated big governmental entities, and somebody who can rally around a next generation of reform ideas like we did at the Railroad Commission," Williams said.
Moving from his post on the 12th floor as former Railroad Commissioner to the second floor of the same building, Williams is taking over the education top spot amidst massive budget cuts that will eliminate one-third of the agency's workforce.
Also on William's plate, a new assessment and accountability system, as well as multiple lawsuits against the state over the way schools are funded.
"It's going to be important to use that small bully pulpit, even though I don't have a vote, to talk about how we go about the business of making sure we have adequate dollars," Williams said.
Williams is a conservative Republican, and some are concerned with his appointment. Opponents worry about his favorable view of school vouchers. The vouchers would allow parents to take part of what the state spends to educate their children in public schools, and use it to cover tuition at private schools.
"It makes no sense to cipher off tax dollars when the public schools are already underfunded for a private school voucher scheme that will benefit a small number of students, while the rest continue to suffer from budget cuts," Texas State Teachers Association Spokesman Clay Robison said.
While Williams hasn't ever taught in a public school classroom, he asks parents, teachers, students and taxpayers to keep him in check.
“The message to parents is, 'I'm here to work for you,'” he said. “The message to youngsters is, 'We're going to challenge you because, quite frankly, it's in your best interest,' and the message to taxpayers is, 'We're going to make sure we get bang for every buck we spend in this state.'"
Williams is a former top official with the U.S. Department of Education under George H.W. Bush. He ran a failed campaign for Congress this election season.