(Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty Images)

“Perry has signed into law state budgets that have invested billions of dollars more in education.”

-- Passage from RickPerry.org, the official presidential campaign web site for Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Brian Williams: “Your state ranks among the worst in the country in high school graduation rates, as we established. Yet you recently signed a budget cut for millions in education funding. You pushed for greater cuts than were in budget that the legislature passed. You’ve said that education is a top priority, but explain cutting it the way you did, please.”

Perry: “I think the reductions that we made were thoughtful reductions. And the fact of the matter is Texas has made great progress in the 10 years that I’ve been governor, from the standpoint of our graduation rates now are up to 84 percent, higher than they’ve been during any period of time before that. When you share the border with Mexico, and when you have as many individuals that we have coming into the state of Texas, we have a unique situation in our state. But the fact is, I stand by a record from what we’ve done with the resources that we’ve had, and I think that the reductions that we put in place were absorbed by our schools.”

-- Exchange between Perry and moderator Brian Williams during a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Sept. 7, 2011

Perry’s record on education may never matter if he becomes president. He did, after all, vow to abolish the Department of Education en route to his “oops” moment at the CNBC debate in Michigan.

Still, these types government-overhaul promises rarely stick, so we decided to fact-check the governor’s comments.

Some of Perry’s claims appear to contradict each other. Did he make “thoughtful reductions” or invest billions more in education? We figured it might be both. But then, what was the net effect?

Perry also said his state’s graduation rates have reached an all-time high. We looked at the data to find out whether Texas has improved to the extent he suggests.

The Facts

We compared Texas’s state education funding from the 2000-2001 and 2012-2013, representing the last biennial budget approved before Perry took office and the one he signed this year. Our calculations show that the state has increased general revenue appropriations for K-12 schools by about $200 million, adjusted for inflation.

That’s far from the billions extra that Perry suggested, and it hardly keeps pace with student enrollment, which has grown 21 percent during Perry’s tenure.

Funding has dropped from about $8,350 per student (in 2011 dollars) during the 2000-2001 biennium to $6,897 per student for 2010-2011.

This year, Perry approved a budget that reduced school spending by $879 million compared to the previous biennium -- although state lawmakers may pass a supplemental appropriations bill with more education funding sometime in 2013.

Perhaps most importantly, the 2012-2013 budget doesn’t fully account for enrollment growth. A report from the state budget board notes that Texas will likely fall $4 billion short of the amount required by the state’s school-funding formula (see page 3 of the report).

“It’s the first time in Perry’s lifetime that we’ve failed to appropriate enough money to meet enrollment growth,” said Clay Robison, a spokesman for the state teachers’ union. “You have to fund the new kids as well as the returning kids, or they get reduced funding.”

The bottom line: Texas cut school spending for the upcoming biennium and failed to meet its own funding formula. Even if the state increased appropriations over the past decade, it’s trending in the wrong direction now.

Perry used his state’s high immigration numbers -- presumably Hispanic -- to justify its poor rankings, so we compared Texas to states that have similar demographics. New Mexico has the highest Hispanic population at 46.3 percent, while Texas and California tie for second with about 38 percent each.

Texas ranked 36th in 2010 for per-student education spending, below California (34th) and New Mexico (18th), according to the National Education Association, a labor union that represents teachers. For what it’s worth, Texas ranked 41st in 2009, so the state showed improvement according to the latest data.

PolitiFact has already covered the issue of graduation rates, looking at the percentage of adults older than 25 who hold a high school diploma or equivalent and rating Perry’s remarks in that case as “half true”. We took a different approach, analyzing graduation rates for high school freshmen who graduate on time.

We think our method works best because it removes the adults who moved to Texas after finishing high school in another state -- many residents have migrated there for jobs.

In terms of freshmen completing high school, Texas ranked 28th in the nation with 75.4 percent in 2008-2009, the last cycle reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. California and New Mexico fared worse with rates of 71 percent and 64.8 percent, respectively.

Border states Arizona and Nevada, along with fellow immigrant-heavy states New York and Florida, showed worse numbers as well.

A Perry spokesperson told us the 84-percent graduation rate came from the state’s education agency, which reported that figure for 2010. But the agency’s numbers historically don’t match data from independent sources like the National Center for Education Statistics. The NCES showed Texas graduation rates running an average of 6.3 percentage points lower than the state education agency for 2006 through 2009.

Education Week has contested the state numbers in the past, saying, for instance, that the Texas agency’s 2003 graduation rate was 17 percentage points too high.

As for the governor’s claim that Texas graduation numbers have never been higher, it depends on which set of data you’re looking at. The NCES shows Texas declining 1.5 percentage points since reaching a high of 76.7 percent in 2005. But the state’s education agency supports Perry’s comment, showing that Texas reached a new height in 2010.

The Pinocchio Test

Texas deserves credit for graduating a larger percentage of high school students than all other comparable states, but Perry cited questionable, home-made graduation numbers rather than independent data.   

In terms of funding, the governor’s campaign site misleads voters by suggesting that Texas has invested billions more dollars in education. With inflation-adjusted figures, the number is just $200 million--and expenditures have actually dropped per student. Besides that, the state hasn’t met its own funding formula for the next biennium, so the rate of spending per student is bound to drop even further.

Overall, Perry earns three Pinocchios.

Three Pinocchios

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