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Rick Perry to U.S. Government: Keep Your Education Money

Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), perhaps best known for threatening that his state may secede from the union, issued a press release today in which he declared Texas would not apply for education grant money from the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” fund. The reason, Perry said, is the strings that come with the funds, including adoption of “national curriculum standards and tests.”

“Texas is on the right path toward improved education, and we would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington, virtually eliminating parents’ participation in their children’s education,” Gov. Perry said. “If Washington were truly concerned about funding education with solutions that match local challenges, they would make the money available to states with no strings attached.”

Texas’ curriculum standards, which determine what students are taught in Texas classrooms, are set by the elected State Board of Education (SBOE). The SBOE recently adopted one of the nation’s first college- and career-ready curriculum standards in core subjects after receiving widespread input from Texas education and business leaders.

Ah, yes. The Texas State Board of Education. One would certainly not want to impose national standards on such an eccentric body.

In August, ThinkProgress flagged an article from The Houston Chronicle reporting that new history textbook standards being drafted by the state board of education had a strong right-wing bias.

The first draft for proposed standards in says students should be expected “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.”

According to The Chronicle, the standards did not include any mention of corresponding significant advocacy organizations and individuals on the left. Republicans on the 15-member board outnumber Democrats by a margin of two-to-one.

The Texas Tribune reported that last year one conservative board member urged his colleagues to include an endorsement of McCarthyism in the state social studies textbook standards.

Bill Ames had neither history or education credentials nor respect for fellow committee members who did. Indeed, the retired IBM executive and conservative gadfly believed they had been planted there in a conspiracy of “liberal groups” and unions who wanted to “hijack” U.S. history — or so he would later write in a three-part, 9,300-word rant, “The Left’s War on History,” that was published by the conservative web site Texas Insider.

When the committee took up McCarthyism, for instance, Ames argued that disgraced Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy was actually an American hero. “The SBOE, noting the predictable leftist condemnation of … McCarthy for his anti-communist activity, requested the inclusion of the Venona papers, which revealed that the U.S. government was in fact infiltrated by communists,” Ames later wrote.

And who could forget the creationism debate that took place in the state last spring? By a one-vote margin, the board rejected language — crafted by Perry’s creationist appointee to head the board, Don McLeroy — that would have required Texas science teachers to cast doubts on the theory of evolution.

One section required teachers to “analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information,” and the other required high school students to study the “sufficiency or insufficiency” of key principles of evolution.

Of course, it’s ultimately Perry’s decision whether or not to apply for federal education grants. But it’s worth noting that according to a 2007 factsheet (pdf) prepared by Rice University for a Texas House of Representatives legislative briefing:

As reported by multiple researchers, approximately 67% of all students are graduating statewide, just 60% of African Americans, and 58% of Hispanic students. Graduation rates in our large urban districts hover around 50%.

Perry is currently facing a tough primary challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and he hasn’t missed many opportunities to flash his far-right credentials to GOP voters. But with graduation numbers like those, is it really in his state’s interest for Perry to play politics with potential federal education assistance?

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