By Jody Serrano
For Reporting Texas
In a face-off over the controversial CSCOPE curriculum program used by hundreds of Texas school districts, one group of parents attacked its loudest supporter — the vice chairman of the State Board of Education. Now he is fighting back.
Thomas Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, said he filed a complaint last month with the Texas Ethics Commission against Alice Linahan, a mother in Argyle who helped lead the anti-CSCOPE movement. In the complaint, Ratliff contends that Linahan lobbied but did not register with the commission as a paid lobbyist. He is asking the commission to investigate Linahan’s activities and finances.
Linahan said in an interview that Ratliff’s complaint is groundless and that he is trying to suppress the views of parents who oppose CSCOPE.
CSCOPE is a curriculum management system that provided sample lessons to 875 Texas school districts. The districts encompassed about a third of the state’s students, according to the Texas Education Agency. CSCOPE was discontinued after concerns by Linahan and other parents about the lessons’ perceived liberal tilt reached lawmakers earlier this year.
After meeting with legislators, the Texas System of Education Service Centers, the state body that developed CSCOPE, agreed in May to stop producing the lessons.
Linahan is a Tea Party advocate who frequently has attacked Ratliff for supporting the use of the curriculum. Critics say the curriculum is anti-American and pro-Islam. One popular example is a lesson that asks students whether the British viewed participants in the Boston Tea Party as terrorists. CSCOPE was used by many of the state’s poorer school districts, many of which couldn’t afford a custom curriculum.
Ratliff said in an interview that the Ethics Commission rejected his initial complaint, and that he has refiled it with supporting documents. Natalia Ashley, special counsel for the commission, said it couldn’t confirm or deny that the complaint had been filed. She declined further comment.
“She’s been very active, and if she’s been doing all of this as a volunteer, my hat’s off to her,” Ratliff said of Linahan. “If she’s not being paid, then I have no problem with it because she’s complying with the law. But transparency’s good for everybody, and not just those of us that they disagree with.”
In a copy of Ratliff’s complaint obtained by Reporting Texas, Ratliff contends that Linahan’s activities lead to the reasonable belief that she is being compensated. He lists activities since June 6 that include a podcast with state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The complaint says Linahan has appeared at public meetings and debates with anti-CSCOPE t-shirts and signs.
Ratliff’s complaint includes a copy of Linahan’s registration form to speak at the Sept. 10 SBOE meeting, in which she says she is speaking on behalf of Women on the Wall, a conservative advocacy organization.
“Given the amount of her activity for the purpose of communicating and preparing to communicate with state officials, coupled with the level of expenditures related to her efforts, in addition to her unwillingness to state that she isn’t being compensated, it’s clear that she spends significant amounts of time and money on these activities,” Ratliff contends in the complaint.
Ratliff’s complaint is the latest example of dissension within the Texas Republican Party between the Tea Party and other Republicans. Some, like Ratliff, say the reason CSCOPE blew up is that lawmakers wanted to appease the Tea Party instead of representing their constituents.
Ratliff said he filed the complaint because Linahan did not register as a lobbyist after indicating she was one when she signed up to testify at a September State Board meeting. Linahan has criticized Ratliff for supporting CSCOPE and for being a lobbyist for Microsoft Corp., a role he has disclosed publicly.
Linahan launched the website ImpeachRatliff.com and contends Ratliff reaps financial benefits from selling CSCOPE software. Ratliff denies receiving any money from CSCOPE.
State law requires a person who receives more than $1,000 to lobby during a calendar quarter to register with the commission. Individuals may file complaints with the commission if they believe someone being paid to lobby has not registered.
If the commission finds the complaint is valid, it can fine the lobbyist $5,000 or triple the amount in question, according to Ethics Commission guidelines.
Linahan said Ratliff has no grounds for his complaint and that she never signed a form indicating she was a lobbyist. Linahan said she is not compensated for her work with Voices Empower, which provides free advocacy workshops across the state and nation, and has used family money to do outreach work.
“He’s desperate to quiet the voices of moms and dads across the state that are in opposition of him being on the State Board of Education as an elected official and a Microsoft lobbyist,” Linahan said. “I’m not surprised.”
Meanwhile, schools are free to use CSCOPE lessons already produced and paid for with state money.
An SBOE committee is reviewing CSCOPE’s social studies lesson plans and is expected to release its report in the next few months. Though the board can’t ban the lessons, the review could help school districts decide whether to keep using them.
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