Education Secretary Arne Duncan appears to be the first member of President Obama’s cabinet to take a swipe at Rick Perry, the Texas governor and newly announced Republican presidential candidate. Duncan told Bloomberg Television that Texas schools have struggled under Perry, saying he feels “very badly” for children who attend them.
“Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” Duncan said. “I feel very, very badly for the children there.”
Texas’ ACT and SAT scores are lower than the national average, and the state’s estimated graduation rate is in the bottom 10 of all 50 states, Bloomberg News reports.
On the Bloomberg Television show that has yet to air, Duncan criticized “massive increases in class size” in Texas and said the state’s recent spending cuts don’t “serve the children well.”
Perry cut spending on education for the state’s 4.85 million students by $4 billion this year (about 6 percent across the board). Before these cuts, Texas ranked 37th out of 50 states in per-pupil spending, and 31st in average teacher salaries, The Dallas Morning News reported. A recent study found that about 29 percent of Texas freshmen in the 2006-2007 school year left school before graduating.
The numbers aren’t all bad for Texas. According to the National Center on Education Statistics, the pupil to teacher ratio in Texas is 14.56, lower than the national average. Texas students scored at around the national average on the National Assessment of Education Progress tests. The state has more poor children than most, with one in four children living in poverty, compared to the one-in-five national average.
Perry and the Obama administration have butted heads over education policy for the past two years. (Obama passed up an opportunity to criticize Perry on CNN yesterday, saying he was going to “cut him some slack.”) Texas is one of only six states that refused to adopt Common Core State Standards, an effort to get all states to agree to a national curriculum framework. Perry also criticized Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s signature education program, which handed out money to states that adopted administration-approved reforms like teacher evaluation systems tied to student test scores.
“I will not commit Texas taxpayers to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national curriculum standards and tests,” Perry wrote to Obama in January 2010.
Perhaps one of the reasons Perry has so been so vocal about federal education policy is that his predecessor, George W. Bush, signed into law the No Child Left Behind law that symbolizes big-government interference in education to many conservatives. Perry has been clear that he thinks states should not face any federal mandates for their schools.