How Fed Up is Rick Perry with Federal Ed. Policy? Read the Book

By Sean Cavanagh — August 18, 2011 4 min read
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Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who recently announced his candidacy for the White House, has been a steadfast critic of what he sees as federal overreach in education, a theme that he has pounded away at with increasing vigor.

But you don’t have to wait for the stump speech—you can read it in Perry’s recently published book: Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, which is bound to receive a lot of scrutiny as the presidential campaign picks up speed.

In the book, released last year by Little, Brown and Company, the Republican governor offers a more expansive view of his ideas about education—specifically, his beliefs that the feds are too involved in it.

Perry traces the history of federal involvement in education to fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 signing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the current version of which is No Child Left Behind.

The governor rails against NCLB—specifically its requirements that states follow testing and other policies or risk losing federal aid.

"[J]ust like the spending hook used to induce compliance for seat-belt and drinking-age laws,” Perry writes, “the federal government reaches into our pockets, takes out wads of dollars, and then says that we can have them back only if we comply with federal instructions.”

In a passage that’s not likely to prove popular in corners of Capitol Hill, Perry also blasts congressional Republicans for supporting the passage of NCLB and allowing a federal expansion into schools. The law won bipartisan support in Congress and was signed into law in 2002 by George W. Bush.

“Do you think there would have been significant Republican opposition? Nope,” writes Perry. Republicans were enticed into backing the law, he says, by the idea that it would expand school choice, among other provisions. “This is not consistent with a belief in a limited federal government of enumerated powers.”

Federal intrusion into his state’s education policy “reached a crescendo” with the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, the governor argues, though he misstates a fact about how the program works.

Race to the Top invited states to compete for hundreds of millions of dollars, and judged their applications on a 500-point scale, based on more than 30 criteria. States could win points by demonstrating support for school policies such as overhauling data systems, improving the quality of teachers and principals, and developing common standards. Perry refused to allow Texas to participate in the competition, making it one of only a handful of states not to do so.

In his book, Perry says that “as a precondition of eligibility just to compete for the funding, the president required that states endorse the Common Core State Standards Initiative"—which is false.

States could win points on their Race to the Top applications if they agreed to develop and adopt common standards, but it was not a requirement. The only prerequisite for states to participate—other than being approved to receive certain stimulus funds—was that they not have any policies that bar linking student achievement data to teachers and principals, for the purpose of evaluating those employees.

A smaller portion of the money in the Race to the Top competition—$350 million—was set aside for groups of states to band together in developing common assessments, based on the common standards. While those states had to promise to adopt common standards by a certain date to participate in those consortia, not doing so did not disqualify the groups of states from the broader competition.

That issue aside, Perry remains a skeptic of the common standards movement, which the Obama administration supports. His state is one of only five to have not adopted common standards.

“The academic standards of Texas are not for sale,” he writes. “We will retain our sovereign authority to decide how to educate our children.”

This week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered a strongly worded critique of Perry’s record on school issues, saying his policies have resulted in higher class sizes, low graduation rates, and big cuts in funding. See my colleague Michele McNeil’s item on the secretary’s remarks.

The governor also alludes to his recent feud with congressional Democrats from his state over the $10 billion Education Jobs Fund. Federal lawmakers had inserted a provision in the law that they said was designed to prevent Perry and state lawmakers from using their share of that emergency aid, $830 million, to fill holes in the state’s budget. Perry blasted the move as “anti-Texas,” and federal lawmakers resolved the dispute by changing the law this year.

“It seems at times that our federal officials live in an Alice in Wonderland type of world, where up is down,” he writes.

Perry’s work as an author predates Fed Up! He previously wrote On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For, which focuses on the organization’s influence on him and others, and on “the left’s litigious assault” on the scouts.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.