State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill walked back previous comments on board politics and the separation of church and state at her Senate confirmation hearing Monday, seeking to assure senators she will lead the panel fairly.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, closely questioned Cargill for the majority of the hearing, with other senators occasionally chiming in. He pointed out that Cargill once categorized the board as having “six true conservative Christians” and used a political litmus test for educators looking to join a curriculum writing team, asking if applicants considered themselves “a conservative.”
Cargill said she has learned from her past and no longer uses that interview question.
Watson’s questioning ultimately spurred a debate over teaching intelligent design in public schools, when he asked about Cargill’s comments last week at a Senate Education Committee hearing where she was quoted stating that there could be “another side to the theory of evolution.”
She said the statement was taken out of context and clarified that she meant for teachers to teach all sides of scientific evidence, not matters of faith.
“In biology class and in science class, I want to stick just to the science, like I did when I was teaching,” Cargill said. “The other needs to be taught at church or in the home.”
But Austin’s other senator, first-term Republican Sen. Donna Campbell, said she did not want to eliminate faith from a science education.
“(Is there) opposition because we do not have the scientific facts to teach creation, that God did not create world and man?” she asked. “…There are some things that I venture to say we aren’t going to know until we go on to eternity.”
Cargill’s colleague on the State Board of Education, Thomas Ratliff, testified on his chairwoman’s behalf. He said while the two don’t agree on every issue, she has been “very fair and very balanced” in leading the committee.
But Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, an education watchdog group,said that Cargill was still trying to push intelligent design into the curriculum and warned that her nomination could ignite the “firestorm” that came with the recent revisions of the social studies and science curriculum standards.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Cargill in 2011 after the Senate failed to confirm a chair, as it has been unable to since 2005. The governor reappointed her to the same position in early February, pending Senate confirmation. Because she was appointed after the 2011 Legislative term, this is Cargill’s first confirmation hearing.
Sen. Glenn Hegar, the Katy Republican who chairs the committee, plans to hold votes for Cargill and other nominees Tuesday.