No U.S. governor has been at public odds with President Obama’s education policies over the past few years more than Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), and it is a safe bet that tensions between Texas and the U.S. Education Department are only going to escalate now that Perry has joined the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Even as other Republicans around the country gave bipartisan approval to Obama’s education agenda, Perry has repeatedly fought with the Education Department, even accusing it of attempting a “federal takeover of public schools” with the Race to the Top competition.
Perry, who won election to his third term as Texas governor last year, trashed the administration’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, and rejected the administration-backed Common Core State Standards effort (which all but six states, including Texas, have agreed to adopt). Perry also fought with the Obama administration over more than $800 million in federal funds that U.S. officials said could go to Texas if the money was spent on education; the Texas governor said he couldn't accept any conditions on use of the money.
In a Jan. 13, 2010 letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Perry wrote, “I will not commit Texas taxpayers to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national curriculum standards and tests.... We believe that education policy, curriculum and standards should be determined in Texas, not in Washington D.C.”
Standing with Perry during a press conference on that same day was Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, and Jeri Stone , executive director of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, both union leaders who backed Perry’s decision on Race to the Top.
A few days later, Obama personally chastised Perry for opting out of Race to the Top.
Perry’s rejection of deepening federal involvement in education policy is, of course, also a slap at No Child Left Behind, the chief education initiative of Perry’s predecessor as Texas governor, former president George W. Bush. NCLB greatly increased federal say over K-12 education, and the Obama administration has further increased that involvement through Race to the Top.
The latest example is Duncan’s decision to unilaterally grant waivers that would exempt states from key provisions of No Child Left Behind. There is a catch, though: Duncan has made clear that only states pursuing education reform — meaning the kind approved by the administration — will be granted a waiver.
Details of the waivers will be released soon, but an Education Department source said it is possible that there will be different levels of waivers offered to states depending on the state and intentions of their reform programs.
Given that Texas doesn’t do a whole that the administration supports, it isn’t hard to envision a clash over the granting of a waiver for NCLB. As the campaign battle between Obama and Perry heats up, expect education to be part of the fight.
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