Thursday, December 18th, 2014

It's not all about jobs; education's an issue, too

Gov. Rick Perry was asked about Texas' education record during the Sept. 7 Republican presidential debate.
Gov. Rick Perry was asked about Texas' education record during the Sept. 7 Republican presidential debate.

Since Texas Gov. Rick Perry became a candidate for president, jobs, Social Security and health care have been frequent topics.

But questions about Perry's record on education have also cropped up, including at the Sept. 7 debate at the Reagan library. Laying out several statistics about the Lone Star State, NBC anchor Brian Williams said that "Texas ranks last" in the percentage of residents who have completed high school and then asked Perry whether that's "the kind of answer all Americans are looking for."

PolitiFact looked into a similar education statement last month after the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party criticized Perry's record on high school graduation rates. "Since Perry became governor, Texas has gone from 46th in the country to 50th in the population that graduates from high school," Ray Buckley said in an interview.

Relying on U.S. census data, PolitiFact found that in 2000, when Perry first took office, Texan ranked 45th among the states and Washington, D.C., in the percentage of residents 25 or older who had graduated from high school. By 2009, Texas was in last place. Although the state's percentage had increased, Texas dropped in the rankings because other states had experienced bigger gains.

Among the factors behind Texas' ranking: minority poverty and a large number of immigrants who arrived as adults without having completed their high school education. Some education experts also said Perry deserves some responsibility, noting that Texas' ranking among states on per-pupil spending dropped from 35th to 43rd from 2000 to 2009. Yet others said it was important to note that Texas was struggling with some of the same education issues long before Perry became the governor.

In the end, the Truth-O-Meter handed the New Hampshire Democratic Party a Half True for its statement.

Education policies in Texas have come up at other times in the Republican presidential contest.

In an August interview with Bloomberg TV, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Texas schools have experienced "massive increases in class size" on Perry's watch. We rated that statement False after examining state data that indicate that elementary school classes might be slightly bigger than they used to be and some high school classes are smaller than they were in earlier years.

Also last month, Perry said while stumping in New Hampshire that "in Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools." That claim also received a False from the Truth-O-Meter. We reviewed the state's science curriculum standards and interviewed experts, finding that it's likely that some Texas teachers address creationism in their classes, but it's not state law or policy to intermix that subject with instruction on evolution.