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Texas education improved thanks to Perot, Richards

Oct. 6, 2000

I would like to thank Ross Perot, Mark White and Ann Richards for all they have done for Texas schools.

Texas is no longer dead last in most major education categories, as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Now the state has moved up to just below average (the state ranks 27th in the country in overall student performance), according to a Rand study released earlier this year. Still, the fact that Texas has moved from horrible to not-quite average is remarkable. And our governor just loves to take credit for this. He loves to brag to the country about how he is the 'education governor.' He loves to go on and on about how Texas is second in improvement on math scores. He loves to tell how Texas' African-American and Hispanic students are doing so much better than their counterparts in other states. Texans are known for stretching the truth, so I guess it's not surprising that the state's highest-ranking official would be telling a big tall tale to try and get elected president. It's time for a reality check.

In 1984, then-Gov. Mark White picked billionaire Ross Perot to head a committee to reform Texas schools. Out of this commission came the idea for a now-heralded testing and accountability system that rates schools based on performance, dropout rates and other key areas. If the schools fail to perform, the system takes funding away from them. The need for smaller class sizes was also the brainchild of

Perot's committee, as well as a need for higher kindergarten enrollment. The committee also developed the 'no-pass, no-play' rule.

The organization behind the Rand study found that smaller class sizes and early education programs were the reforms that worked. But it also found that leveling the spending between wealthy and poor school districts worked as well. We have former Gov. Ann Richards to thank for this.

In 1993, she proposed and pushed through the legislature the 'Robin Hood' program. Since schools are mostly funded by property taxes, the ones in low-income neighborhoods were at a disadvantage because the funding was just not there. 'Robin Hood' changed a lot of that, though. It shrunk the funding gap between wealthy and poor school districts, where, unfortunately, so many of the minority students are. And now we see that minority scores are skyrocketing. It's amazing what happens when you equalize the funding for schools. It never made sense and was simply unjust that schools in poor neighborhoods had less money than those in wealthy neighborhoods.

Our governor can claim the 'Texas miracle' in education all he wants to. But as far as the substantive programs that have turned Texas schools around, he had little to do with them. While he was at the ballpark, White, Perot and Richards were creating the lineup that would eventually score points for Texas schools. So, what has the governor done for Texas schools? A Sept. 4 Austin Chronicle article sums it up well. 'He gave it a bigger allowance and more freedom from rules...'

In the same article, former Texas Education Agency commissioner Lionel Meno said, 'Texas has been fortunate that everybody has built on everybody else's work.'

Bush pushed for a 42 percent school budget increase in the last legislative session, he signed a $3,000 teacher pay raise and he pushed for more local control of schools (the state still only ranks 38th in this category). These are no doubt important factors, but without that Perot committee and 'Robin Hood,' who knows where Texas would be.

Bush can talk about the improvements in Texas education, but to claim that he is responsible for the Texas turn around is like saying he caught an 8-pound bass, when all he reeled in was a minnow.

(Clint Cox is a junior political science major from Paris, Texas. He recently worked as an intern for Al Gore's presidential campaign.)