As could be predicted, Gov. Rick Perry’s address to the Legislature today was less a state of the state than it was a recitation of the governor’s political philosophy – in other words, bad news for Texas students and educators.
At one point, Perry bragged, “Our graduation rates are at an all-time high…but we can’t let up.”
He was referring to a federal report, published late last year, that Texas had one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country. What he didn’t say, however, was that the report was based on the 2010-11 school year, the last academic year before he and the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets. The cuts impacted crucial dropout prevention programs, such as full-day pre-kindergarten, and have resulted in overcrowded classrooms and diminished learning environments for thousands of children.
Perry said lawmakers needed to start focusing on the individual child. That, of course, is hollow rhetoric from a governor who joined with the legislative majority to cut more than $500 from the educational funding for each child in Texas public schools. That was how the $5.4 billion in cuts divided up.
Despite the governor’s talk, he and the legislative majority already have “let up” on their commitment to the public schools. They cut funding in 2011, and now the governor and key budget writers say they have no intention of restoring the lost money, even though an improved economy enables them to do so. Instead, Perry favors draining away more tax dollars from public schools for private school vouchers.
The governor also continues to misstate the purpose of the Rainy Day Fund, which now has a balance of $11.8 billion, more than enough to restore funding for education and take care of other state needs. To hear Perry tell it, the Rainy Day Fund was designed to help the state recover from natural disasters, such as hurricanes, when, in fact, it was intended to help address temporary, financial emergencies, such as the Legislature encountered two years ago.
Now, it should be used to help the state dig out of an educational funding disaster that the governor and the legislative majority have created.
Perry says he doesn’t want to dip into the fund to meet “ongoing expenses.” But restoring money that he cut from public schools two years ago is not an ongoing expense. It is damage repair.
Instead of repairing damage to education, however, Perry would rather inflict more.