Gov. Perry Has Slashed Funding For Public Education He Says Was His "Key To The Future"

September 29, 2011 4:14 pm ET — Kate Conway

Listening to Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) talk recently, you might think he was a more ardent supporter of a strong, effective public education system than many of his fellow GOP presidential candidates. In a recent primary debate, Perry even affirmed his support for a Texas law granting in-state tuition to undocumented college students, saying that people who think "we should not educate children who have come into our state for no reason other than they've been brought here by no fault of their own" don't "have a heart."

Although he's since suggested that his language during the debate was poorly chosen, Perry's rhetoric this morning again suggested that public education was an issue near and dear to him. Asked on CNBC about his humble origins, the governor generously credited "a public school system that prepared me to be able to go off to college" for giving him "a key to the future."

HOST: Governor Perry, you grew up poor. You know what it's like to use an outhouse. You didn't have indoor plumbing in your home, so you can empathize with people at the bottom of the economic spectrum. I wonder if you can feel what some of them feel, which is to say that either because of tax policy or bailouts to banks that the system is stacked in favor of the wealthy and that that is the ultimate form of class warfare. Would you react to that?

PERRY: Well, I grew up in a part of the world where I was fortunate to have two loving parents and a public school system that prepared me to be able to go off to college, which gave me a key to the future. Every child in this country ought to have that opportunity. But having a job and the dignity to take care of your family is at the core of I think what is hurting America today, and we've got policies in Washington, D.C. that are anti-job — over-taxation, over-regulation.


Perry's professed love for public education — and his commitment to providing "every child" with an opportunity to attend college — deserve some skepticism. Texas' public education statistics are dismal: Under Perry's leadership, "Texas is dead last in the percentage of residents with their high school diploma and near last in SAT scores." Even among those who do graduate from high school, fewer attend college than in 41 other states. And half of those who make it to a Texas college need "remedial or developmental classes." (The national average is 28 percent.)

Things are only projected to get worse: The state comptroller estimated that by 2040, nearly a third of the workforce in Texas won't have a high school diploma (it's already at 12 percent). Yet the state isn't exactly making education a priority; in fact, it elected to address its budget deficit by sacrificing students' wellbeing instead of by, say, raising taxes. As of December 2009, Texas' per-student expenditures ranked 38th in the nation, and this year the legislature cut another $4 billion from public school funding.

Texas' education cuts are even beginning to impact the job creation record Perry likes to sling around; last month, Texas reportedly "lost 900 jobs in local school districts" thanks to budgets that will shrink by 6 percent this year. Maybe a threat to his jobs record will wake the governor up to the importance of funding public education, but in the meantime it's too bad Texas students are being used as a political pawn by a governor who seems more interested in launching himself towards the White House than in providing for his state's future.