Rejecting Race to the Top funds was an easy call

February 4, 2010

Austin American Statesman

Rick Perry

Based upon the reaction out of Washington, I must have touched a nerve when I announced that Texas won't be pursuing the strings-attached federal stimulus funds known as Race to the Top (RTTT).

President Barack Obama and his administration have put a target on the backs of Texas leaders, taxpayers and employers because state leaders and lawmakers have proven that conservative principles can balance budgets, improve schools, clean the environment and help entrepreneurs create jobs.

Texans have also led the 10th Amendment charge to protect state sovereignty from threats like Obama's latest effort to circumvent the right of states to determine how to best educate their children.

The problem with RTTT funding is clear: Under the program's rules, Washington gives preference and dollars to states that agree to adopt national standards that haven't even been written yet.

Texans strongly support the high standards and strong accountability for our schools that have made us a national leader in both categories. Other states are even studying our approach, the first in the nation to make a college-preparatory curriculum the default for every student, as a basis for their own standards.

Texas is home to some of the country's most innovative charter schools, with more than 115,000 students on nearly 500 campuses. It has the largest merit pay program for outstanding public school teachers. I've also recently announced efforts to make it easier for students to learn via the Internet and called on legislators to bulk up our instruction in critical areas like science, technology, engineering and math.

I suspect there is some head-scratching going on in our nation's capital as federal officials try to figure out how our test scores are rising and our dropout rate falling without mandates or bribes from Washington.

Put simply, we have poured our efforts into preparing the state's students for the jobs of tomorrow.

Considering Texas is among the nation's leaders in standards, I imagine whatever federal standards are eventually agreed upon will be weaker than the ones we have now.

Adding injury to insult, the price tag to change all our text books and instructional materials to comply with Washington's vision for public education would be about $3 billion.

In return, Texas could expect to get back from Race To The Top as little as $75 a student, barely enough to fund our state's educational system for two days.

So turning down the strings-attached stimulus money was an easy call — in terms of ensuring our children get the best education possible and in simple matters of dollars and cents.

A few days after I made that announcement, the president said he wanted another $1.35 billion in borrowed dollars to expand RTTT so he could sidestep states and appeal directly to individual school districts that might be willing to sign away their authority in return for a quick infusion of some federal cash.

Why are Obama and his allies so insistent on funding only those who will accept federal strings and standards? Why not just fund good programs, like we do in Texas?

An answer might be found in a speech Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered early last year. Duncan said, "If we accomplish one thing in the coming years, it should be to eliminate the extreme variation in standards across America."

Let's set aside the argument that the "variation in standards" among states fosters innovation and a healthy competition that drives standards ever higher all over the country.

That's not what this seems to be about. This seems to be about one thing, and one thing only: federal control.

Washington doesn't have an issue with our programs. Washington doesn't have an issue with our academic or accountability standards. It just wants to make sure it calls the shots, not Texas educators, school boards and other elected officials.

Should Washington drop its focus on the adoption of national standards and simply allow states the freedom to use this money to fund quality programs on a one-time basis, we can consider possibly applying for future grants.

Until then, however, the education of our children is far too important to entrust to some federal bureaucrat toiling in a distant federal building.

In Texas, we are fighting to maintain our freedom to hold our children to high standards, because that's the only way Texas will maintain its established reputation as a national leader in job creation, innovation and quality of life.

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