Updated to add response from State Board of Education Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff

The stage could be set for a much-talked-about, hypothetical CSCOPE debate. Sen. Dan Patrick and State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff have been sparring over the merits of the online curriculum program through press releases and Facebook posts since July.

CSCOPE was created as an online tool to help teachers meet state education requirements. The program drew criticism from conservative groups who claimed students were being subjected to “anti-American” teachings through some of the lesson plans. Sen. Patrick led a successful effort to do away with the program last session.

SBOE Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff has been among CSCOPE’s supporters, and has encouraged teachers to download the lessons before they are taken offline. “The districts can, and should, continue to use that as one resource,” he said in a Capital Tonight interview. “It’s not the only resource, but when 80 percent of the districts are using it, they don’t have the ability to recreate a curriculum with less than six weeks until the start of school.”

Last month, Sen. Patrick issued a Facebook challenge to anyone who wanted to debate the merits of the program. Ratliff accepted his offer, saying he’d take Patrick on “anytime, anyplace.” Now, Patrick is setting a time, and a place. In a press release sent Wednesday, Patrick invited Ratliff to publicly debate the issue on August 24 in Tyler.

“I’ll give him the home field advantage, but I will not concede the high ground,” Patrick said. “The CSCOPE curriculum was an ill-conceived program, shrouded in secrecy. When I shined a light on it during the Legislative Session; it could not withstand close scrutiny.” 

Update: Ratliff told Capital Tonight this afternoon that he is willing to take Patrick up on his offer, as long as certain conditions are met. “I look forward to a substantive debate with Senator Patrick, not a political discussion with candidate Patrick,” Ratliff said. “I want to make sure it is a thoughtful, meaningful debate. Not just a bunch of soundbites.“ 

There are still details that need to be worked out, including the format. Ratliff says he is proposing a three person panel that would include an educator, a conservative and a neutral moderator, such as a journalist.

Ratliff also expressed disappointment that the debate would be held at a Tea Party event and said he wished it could take place closer to Austin. We do want to note that we at Capital Tonight offered to host this debate. Sen. Patrick declined that invitation.