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Texas Education Commissioner To Quit, Leaving Austin For Arlington

Bob Daemmrich
Texas Tribune
Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams in 2013.

Citing a years-long long-distance relationship with his wife in Arlington, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams informed Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday morning that he will step down from his position effective Jan. 1.

“There was no huge action-forcing event that said it was now time to go. It was just a feel that I got.”

  Williams says after 30 years of public service, it’s time to go home. That means Arlington. He and his wife maintained a commuter relationship for a decade and a half

“There was no huge action-forcing event that said it was now time to go. It was just a feel that I got,” Williams said.   

He followed his feelings, and executive appointments dating to the 1980s. He was the first African American in state history elected to an executive branch position in Texas. He served 13 years on the Railroad Commission.

Rick Perry appointed him Education Commissioner in 2012 and Williams is named in the lawsuit challenging the way Texas funds public schools.

“We have a graduation rate that’s higher than its been, second highest in the country,” Williams said, although he was limited in what he could say, given the litigation. “We’ve had increasing ACT and SAT scores despite wherever we rank in per capita spending.”

And he still has hopes for one of his pet projects – giving letter grades to schools and districts

“All of us grew up understanding the difference between an “A” and a “C” and an “F,” Williams said. “If we design it correctly, then I’ve no doubt parents will understand and get real information about the performance of their campus in their districts.”

Williams says he has no clue what he’ll do next, but it‘ll involve some kind of  public service, because he says that’s the way he’s built.  

From the Texas Tribune - 

“During the course of my career in public service, I have held two statewide positions since 1999 — first as a member of the Texas Railroad Commission and then as commissioner of education. Both of those are based in Austin,” Williams wrote in a letter to Abbott. “While carrying out my responsibilities, I have kept my house in Arlington and managed to maintain a long-distance partnership with my wife. But after more than 16 years of weekend commuting, I feel it is finally time to simply head home.”

Williams, a Republican, was appointed to head the Texas Education Agency by then-Gov. Rick Perry in August 2012. The agency oversees the state’s public schools, where more than 5 million students are enrolled.

In his letter to Abbott, Williams praised the freshman governor for championing various legislation during this year’s legislative session, including an $118 million pre-K grant program that passed despite opposition from the far-right faction of the GOP. 

Williams, a Midland native, also cited legislation that will re-establish new math and reading academies for teachers and create “multi-campus innovation zones” that will exempt qualifying schools from certain state and local requirements so they can experiment with new forms of instruction. Finally, he praised state leaders for “again broadening the choices and information provided to Texas parents to help them make informed decisions about their children’s education," referencing a new system he advocated for that will assign A-through-F letter grades to individual districts and — after the 2015 session — school campuses.

"I have no doubt that your commitment to public education will be key to maintaining our state’s position as a national leader for many years to come,” Williams wrote. 

Abbott returned the praise in a statement, saying “Commissioner Williams is a public servant dedicated to elevating our state’s education system to be the best in the nation."

"I am grateful for his leadership and steadfast advocacy on behalf of our students, and I wish him the best of luck in all future endeavors," he said.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.