Perry Fails To Lead On Education

Last weekend, Iowa Republicans selected Michele Bachmann as the winner of the Iowa straw poll, a meaningless indication of which candidate pulled at the heartstrings of Iowans the most. While this dog and pony show was taking place, a meaningful addition to the GOP presidential race threw his hat in the festivities. Texas Governor Rick Perry formally announced his candidacy in South Carolina, thousands of miles away from the Iowa media storm.

Governor Perry has a résumé befitting a staunch Republican candidate. He cuts taxes, cuts spending, and most appealing of all, creates jobs. Texas has the highest job creation rate in the nation, a huge selling point in the upcoming election. But not everything is about job creation.

Perry might be the "great job creator," but his record on education indicates that he is not fit to run our country. Our future generations need someone in office willing to focus on and fix the broken nature of our public school system, something Perry has not shown he can do.

Perry began his long tenure as governor by focusing on education reform, eventually getting Texas’ test results above the national average, increasing faculty in the state's public schools, and improving pay. But faced with tough economic times, education has become an innocent casualty in Perry’s budget cuts.

Cuts to education should not be an option. The next generation needs an opportunity to succeed and cutting spending only diminishes that opportunity. Earlier this year saw Perry slash basic education spending by some $4 billion (originally proposed $10 billion), while keeping $6 billion in a "rainy day" fund. The cuts will undoubtedly cost thousands of school jobs as well as lead to over-crowded classrooms.

Per pupil spending has also slipped in recent years as Texas has now fallen to 43rd in the nation at $8,540 per pupil. The wealth will continue to be spread thin as the new budget fails to take into account the 160,000 new students that are set to populate the halls of schools throughout Texas. Schools throughout the state are already massively underfunded – 6% or $4 billion under what state law calls for. That is a gap that means fewer classrooms, more overcrowding, and less teacher to student interaction.

Math and reading test scores for fourth and eighth grade students under Perry have consistently been above the national average (which is not saying much), but fail to match up to Massachusetts and Minnesota test scores (states led by Perry’s opponents). The state's physics and calculus scores rank below average, and the state's three largest school districts – Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston – fail to graduate 50% of their students. The standards in Texas are drastically lower than that of most states in the union. Under Perry’s governorship the state’s standards have been raised from an F rating to a hearty D.

Perry states that improving accountability and quality of education are his main goals, but maintaining low education standards is not the way to go about it.

Perry is a firm believer in state control over the education system, as he is a staunch opponent of President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top education policy, labeling it a “federal takeover of public schools.” He also refused to sign the Common Core Standards effort and rejected $800 million federal funds for education (which would have helped alleviate the recent cuts).

Perry’s cut first, ask questions later technique has created jobs in Texas (he also has benefited greatly from the Texas miracle), but it has left the education sector struggling to survive. Elected officials need to realize that the education of our youth is one of the most important aspects of America. Continuing to slash spending in the name of balancing the budget is only shortchanging future generations. Perry, along with countless others, are guilty of crippling our nation’s education system and our future.

We need a leader willing to maintain or increase education spending, not cut it.

Photo Credit: bvides