Rick Perry, governor of Texas and top 2012 GOP presidential contender, enjoys boasting that his state has been generating jobs while the rest of the nation struggles – the “Texas Miracle” his supporters like to call it. Perry also says Texas schools, despite being walloped by more than $5 billion in budget cuts, have been doing more with less. As his campaign continues, however, and scrutiny into his record intensifies, Perry’s record on jobs and education is beginning to unravel.
There is no “miracle” in Texas, which is why President Obama will be visiting Dallas on Tuesday to drum up support for the American Jobs Act (AJA), the administration’s $450 billion job creation program. Texas could use the AJA. The bill would provide the Lone Star state with a much-needed infusion to offset Perry’s draconian budget cuts that have decimated public education and led to statewide layoffs of public employees. Perry dismisses the AJA, however, and says the nation merely needs to emulate the Texas model – less government spending, less regulation and more tax cuts.
So how’s that working out for Texans?
While it is true the state’s economic growth has outpaced the national average, job gains in Texas can be attributed in large part to rising gas and oil prices and an aggressive job initiative that has lured companies from other states with promises of low regulation and taxes. Neither advantage can be modeled on a national scale, say skeptics. Additionally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas has by far the largest number of employees working at or below the federal minimum wage. And there’s nothing miraculous about the Lone State state’s unemployment rate – 8.5 percent in August – and the one in five Texans who live in poverty.
Building an economy on the weak foundation of low-skill, low-paying jobs, Steve Murdock, a Rice University sociologist, told The Washington Post, “has never been the key to a prosperous future, at least in any modern times.”
Long-term prosperity for the residents of his state, however, doesn’t seem to be one of Gov. Perry’s top priorities. While he says he’s for job creation and economic development, his deep budget cuts to public schools and higher education will make it very difficult for students to get what they need to be successful in a highly skilled, competitive work force.
Consider the Texas state budget: This year, Perry cut $4 billion from K12 school districts and another $1.4 billion in discretionary grants, such as those that pay for full-day kindergarten. Across the board, every district must grapple with a 6 percent cut, while state colleges and universities face 9 percent cuts.
“This is the worst education budget in his lifetime,” said Clay Robison, public affairs specialist for the Texas State Teachers Association. It’s the first, in more than 60 years, that fails to fully fund Texas’ school finance formulas, including anticipated enrollment growth. A coalition of school districts (expected to surpass 300) is expected to file a lawsuit later this month charging that the state’s financing system is not meeting the constitutional standards for adequate and equitable school funding.
It’s important to note that the state’s budget shortfall this year was, at least in part, of Perry’s own making. His 2006 school property tax cuts produced a deficit in the state education budget that accounted for more than one-third of this year’s total revenue gap.
Although Texas school districts have already begun laying off employees, the Austin-based Center for Public Priorities estimates that 49,000 employees may lose their jobs by the time the second year of budget cuts take effect in 2012-2013.
And don’t expect to see students in Texas thriving under those conditions. Perry just doesn’t understand — or ignores — what it takes to make students successful. The groundwork is laid when children are young, which is why it’s so galling that Perry vetoed a bipartisan, pre-kindergarten bill that would have allowed more school districts to offer full-day, pre-kindergarten. And it depends on very basic things, like making sure kids are healthy. The projected teacher layoffs will further increase class size, as the law limiting number of students in each class has been routinely waived by the state or simply ignored.
One school district in Texas, so decimated by Perry’s cut-to-the-bone-and-beyond state budget, recently decided to charge its students nearly $400 a year to ride the school bus. And it’s not the only one struggling to stay afloat while Perry gladly hands out millions of dollars in tax breaks and state contracts to his wealthy campaign donors.
“Rick Perry is all hair and no cattle,” Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker recently told reporters. “He talks a good game of economic development and job creation, but his under-funding of public schools and universities undermines Texas’ ability to adequately prepare young people for the jobs that will make or break the state’s future.”