Perry’s Education Politics

In West Texas, Rick Perry is trying to bone up his education creds, but letting the ed commissioner do the talking


I’ve spent the last week in West Texas, driving from towns to talk to state reps, mayors and the like. I’d been worried, with the limited internet access, that I might miss the horse race news from the capitol. Luckily, the governor and I happened to be at the same place at the same time. It turns out, it can be easier to see candidates you’re not reporting from Austin.

The governor could not have asked for a better introduction than the one he received at Aug 31 at Monterey High School. “Governor Perry has been a strong supporter of public schools,” said Lubbock ISD superintendent Karen Garza, welcoming the governor back to his home region.

It wasn’t exactly a tough crowd. Well before the governor’s arrival, thirty or so students had already been assembled into neat rows of chairs in the school library, while the adults—various members of the Lubbock elite—were still finding their seats moments before the event got underway.

For months, Democrats have hammered Perry over issues around education—the dropout rate, the rigor of testing and the supposed lack of emphasis on simply improving Texas schools. Apparently, the effort is having some effect, since it seems Perry came out to show his education bona fides. In West Texas he introduced a new incentive program for school savings; he had started the day telling Abilene about it.

But when the governor took the podium, he spent most of his time being charming and likeable. “It’s good to be in the home of the Plainsmen,” he said of the school’s unimposing mascot. He joked about graduating in his high school’s top ten students—of 13. He told the kids they’ll have “a big time Friday with Odessa.”

His specifics on the program were very brief. Districts that partner on administrative costs like bookkeeping will now get an additional ten percent from the state of whatever amount they saved on the cost. That’s it.

Perry then moved on to highlight other programs, none of them related to the new incentive program. As he jumped from his emphasis on virtual high schools to the Education Agency’s new iTunes station to the employer sales tax credit for letting workers go back for their diploma or GED, his arms were waving up and down. Perry seemed to be hitting every education initiative he’s introduced in recent memory.

Then he switched gears entirely.

“A thousand plus people move to this state every day,” he said, dropping his voice to an awed whisper. “Every day!” Looking at the students, most of whom appear to be 15 or 16 years old, he said “There’s freedoms here from over-taxation, over-regulation.”

He let Robert Scott, the education commissioner, explain the details of the plan; it will primarily bring a little more to small districts, many of which already partner on bookkeeping-type costs. The Texas Education Agency doesn’t even mention it on their homepage.

When reporters began asking questions about the program, Perry let Scott field most of them —where the grant money comes from, how much it will save, the timeline for districts. He stuck to criticizing U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who introduced a provision that prevents Texas from getting $830 million in federal money unless the state agrees to maintain current education spending levels for the next three years. (Other states only have to agree for one year.)

“Congressman, quit playing politics with Texas’ kids’ future,” Perry said.

The entire event paid off. got favorable radio coverage—I’ve heard about it three times on three different radio stations around the area. Playing politics is all be relative, I suppose.