Will Rick Perry's Contrarian Education Views Catch On?

As we chew over election results in Texas, here's a policy question to contemplate: Will Perry's unorthodox views on education become the standard ...
by | March 2, 2010

As we chew over election results in Texas, here's a policy question to contemplate: Will Perry's unorthodox views on education become the standard for conservative Republicans?

There are at least two big things going on in education policy right now. One is the Race to the Top program in the stimulus, which is offering up billions of dollars in supplemental education funding to states. States are making pretty big policy changes -- lifting charter school limitations and changing teacher compensation rules -- in their quest to meet the standards devised by Congress and the Obama administration.

Secondly, states have been collaborating on creating common educational standards, which would define what students need to know at each grade level. This effort has been led by states so far, but the president recently said that he wants to tie federal education funding to adoption of the standards.

Governors across the political spectrum have been supporting these initiatives. While Race to the Top means more federal control of education policy -- which conservatives might be expected to oppose -- most Republican governors haven't really minded because the Obama administration is proposing reforms that are generally associated with Republicans (charter schools, etc.). Even South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, the most doctrinaire anti-stimulus governor, asked for Race to the Top money.

The common academic standards also dovetail with a conservative education priority: accountability. Measuring student performance -- the signature education idea of President George W. Bush -- doesn't mean a lot if states are measuring students on all different things. That's why people like Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a conservative Republican, backed Obama on common educational standards.

Around forty states applied for the first round of Race to the Top funding, but Texas didn't. Due to Perry's opposition, it won't be applying for the second round of funding either. Forty-eight states are collaborating on the common educational standards. Only Alaska and Texas aren't.

Perry's view is that Texas should be able to set its education policies on its own. That, of course, has long been the perspective of conservatives (if not the Bush administration). As a result, I'm somewhat surprised that there hasn't been more conservative opposition to Obama's education policies. Republican gubernatorial candidates (or federal candidates) could court the right by arguing that the White House is trampling on the rights of states. I'll be interested to see whether this becomes a litmus test for conservative candidates.

But, it may not. There's a pretty strong case that the domestic policy area where Obama has borrowed the most conservative ideas is education. Teachers unions certainly aren't entirely happy which what the president has done. If the pitch is on states' rights, other policy areas, like health care, may be more fertile ground.

Plus, while it makes good primary politics, Perry could be vulnerable on the subject in the general election. Bill White might ask why Texans are paying taxes to fund public education in other states and not getting their fair share.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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