Now that Rick Perry has ended the governor-for-life speculation, this is a good time to start filling in the “Fs” on his education report card. He will be in office for another 18 months, but let us hope – fingers crossed – that most of the damage to public schools already has been done.
This account is far from complete, but here are some low points of Perry’s education record:
# A school finance overhaul in 2006 that provided fleeting property tax “relief” while permanently digging a multibillion-dollar hole in the public education budget.
# An erosion of financial support for public schools and teachers. In 2003-04, according to the earliest data I could readily obtain from the National Education Association, per-pupil spending in Texas was $1,094 less than the national average, and average teacher pay in Texas lagged $6,259 behind the national average. That was about halfway through Perry’s first elective term in the governor’s office. By the just completed 2012-13 school year, Texas’ per-pupil spending had fallen to $3,055 behind the national average, and its average teacher pay lagged $8,273 behind.
# A big chunk of the Texas erosion occurred in 2011, when Perry insisted upon and signed a budget that slashed $5.4 billion from public education. The Legislature restored about $4 billion of that this year, but spending is still lower than what it was three years ago. And, at Perry’s insistence, legislators left several billion dollars sitting untouched in the Rainy Day Fund.
# The 2011 budget cuts cost the jobs of 25,000 school employees, including 11,000 teachers, and crammed thousands of students into overcrowded classrooms.
# High-stakes standardized testing became more dominant and time-consuming under Perry, until parental outrage prompted the Legislature to start cutting back this year.
# Funding for higher education also has suffered under this governor. And, because of a tuition deregulation law that he signed, tuition has soared, while student financial aid has been cut back.
Perry doubtlessly will continue to try to claim job creation as a key part of his legacy. But it takes more than low taxes, lax regulations and government handouts to friendly corporations to create permanent, well-paying jobs and maintain a strong economy.
Tomorrow’s jobs require a strong public education system today, and Texas public schools can’t afford any more of Perry.