Update: This piece has been updated with a response from the Perry campaign.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, coming out early and tough against Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said he feels “very, very badly for the children” in Texas who go to public schools under Perry’s administration.
It was entirely predictable that Duncan would blast Perry, who just entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination and who has made it something of a sport to attack the president.
Just the other day, I wrote that no U.S. governor has been at public odds with Obama’s education policies more than Perry, and that tensions would only escalate. It’s safe to say they have.
Even as other Republicans have found bipartisan ground with Obama on education reform, Perry has repeatedly criticized Duncan’s Education Department, accusing it of attempting a “federal takeover of public schools” with the Race to Top competition in which states vied for federal funds by promising to implement specific education reforms.
Perry opted out of Race to the Top last year in a very public way, blasting the administration.
Now, in an interview on Bloomberg Television, airing today and tomorrow, Duncan said that public schools in Texas have “really struggled” under Perry.
“Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” he said. “I feel very, very badly for the children there.”
“You have seen massive increases in class size,” Duncan said of the Texas public school system during Perry’s terms as governor since December 2000. “You’ve seen cutbacks in funding. It doesn’t serve the children well. It doesn’t serve the state well. It doesn’t serve the state’s economy well. And ultimately it hurts the country.”
Naturally, Perry's spokespeople said Duncan had it wrong and that Texas has an excellent public school system. Here’s a statement from Perry spokesman Mark Miner:
“The President’s Secretary of Education may want to do a little more homework before commenting on education in Texas. Under Governor Perry Texas has been a national leader in adopting college and career ready curriculum standards what will ensure Texas students graduate prepared to succeed in college and the workplace. In fact, in September 2009, Education Week recognized Texas as a national leader in adopting college and career ready standards. Texas continues to lead the country in job creation because companies know they can find educated and highly skilled workers here.”
That said, Perry recently signed a state budget that included $4 billion in cuts to public schools, even though an extra 80,000 students are expected this academic year.
Bloomberg.com also reported that under Perry’s latest budget, the effects of education cuts as well as slashes in Medicaid will fall disproportionately on Latinos, who make up 49 percent of K-12 public school students in the state. Meanwhile, it said, Texas ranks 42nd in per-pupil spending in the United States and 43rd in high school graduation rates.
Of course, education budgets have been cut in states across the country, and there are a lot of people who have criticized Race to the Top who wouldn’t support Perry for president.
But the record of public education in Texas became a national debate topic years ago when its supposed increasing achievement created what officials, including George W. Bush, first as Texas governor and then U.S. president, called the “Texas miracle.”
The “miracle” was debunked , but that didn’t stop a continuing argument about Texas public education. It sounds like we’re in for another round.
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