Perry correct to question school funding

Freedom New Mexico

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has gotten plenty of grief for rejecting federal “stimulus” money in the past year. Criticism over his latest “No thank you” has been particularly harsh, as it would have brought as much as $750 million for Texas public schools.

The money is part of $4.35 billion in “economic stimulus” funds the federal government has offered as part of its “Race to the Top” initiative to standardize public education curricula. Perry says state standards already are higher than those Texas would have to meet in order to get the funds. He also said that the state and school districts could end up spending as much as $3 billion — significantly more than the amount of the federal grants — to change teaching and testing materials in order to comply with the federal standards.

His argument gained strength last week with the release of a report that praises the state’s performance, despite low spending amounts compared to other states.

Education Week released its Quality Counts survey of state education programs, giving Texas an A for its curriculum standards, while giving it an F for spending.

Combining the two scores and others, the survey gave Texas an overall C-plus grade, higher than the national average. State education standards ranked sixth highest in the nation, even as its spending per student ranked 42nd.

It’s hard to fault the governor for defending the state’s site-based system of educational control, especially in light of the report showing that Texas already is among the nation’s leaders in education standards and achievement. The state standards set a decade ago, upon which President George W. Bush based his “No Child Left Behind” initiative, are showing results. Increasing numbers of schools have been showing improvement in standardized test scores.

In rejecting the offer to apply for the federal money, Perry noted that the state has one of the nation’s first college- and career-ready curriculum standards in core subjects.

Certainly, most schools would have liked the extra money, although its final use can’t be assured. Some districts have received grants and used the money for administrative bonuses and raises, while teachers still had to buy supplies out of their own pockets. Some districts have turned down performance-based awards from the state, because their teachers’ associations insisted that all teachers should be compensated equally.

The governor is right to check whatever strings are attached to federal handouts. Officials should not be willing to compromise our standards rights or freedoms just to grab more taxpayers’ money. It would be better, of course, if such decisions were made with consultation from other elected officials, such as the State Board of Education.

Ideally, voters would stop electing people who have such a penchant for expanding government’s reach into our lives, and taking our money to do it. At the very least, it is right to see what hoops are placed before us in order to get federal funds.

As Gov. Perry did in this case, we might find that the money isn’t always worth the sacrifice.