The major-party candidates for governor on Tuesday waded into one of the oldest and hottest debates in public education — what’s the real high school drop-out rate? — producing the kind of fireworks that suggest the state is in store for a nasty general election battle.
The day began with Bill White issuing a press release accusing Republican Rick Perry of quoting what White says is a bogus drop-out rate for Texas: 10 percent. In an interview, White blasted the governor for failing to address the catastrophic problem over the last decade, insisting that the real drop-out rate is 30 percent. “About 3 in 10 Texas high school students do not graduate from high school or get a GED within 4 years,” the release states. “In the graduating classes of 2000, when Perry took office, through 2008, about 3.2 million students were enrolled in high school, but only about 2.1 million graduated or earned a GED on time.”
Perry returned fire, issuing a response that began by attacking White on matters unrelated to education: “On day 30 of liberal trial lawyer Bill White refusing to release his income tax returns …” Eventually he addressed the meat of White’s charge, seemingly as a footnote, and a caveat-laden one at that: “The percent of students who enter high school and eventually earn a diploma or equivalent, or who remain in pursuit of a diploma or equivalent, is 90 percent.”
What’s the truth? Both statements are technically correct — yet neither is exactly true, according to the most reliable dropout figures. Both lack context and ignoring other readily available data. Ultimately, however, White’s figure may be the closest to reality, as a Texas Tribune analysis of the many and conflicting dropout-counting methods showed last year before the candidates ever started fighting about it.
Note the differences in their style. White presents facts, which you can see here, while Perry points and says “Look! It’s a monster under your bed! Run for your life!” Don’t expect anything different between now and November.
The Trib piece concludes by saying that both Perry and White would likely agree that whatever the dropout rate is, it’s too high. Actually, I’m not sure Perry would agree to that, because if he did, he’d have to explain why after ten years on his watch it is that way. I’m going to say it again, and I’m going to keep saying it again because it’s Rick Perry and his buddies who own all of these problems: Why haven’t they done anything before now? Rick Perry has been Governor for all this time, and he’s had Republican majorities in both chambers since 2003. What has he done to improve the situation? When you look at it that way, you can see why Perry’s preferred approach is to change the subject. Forrest Wilder has more.