Perry praises Texas school funding as 'phenomenal'
He calls spending growth 'phenomenal'; Sen. Davis says he's using 'fuzzy math'
AUSTIN -- Firing back at harsh criticism of Republicans for approving billions of dollars in public school funding cuts, Gov. Rick Perry defended state spending on education Wednesday and referred to "phenomenal" growth over the past decade.
The comments did nothing to calm the criticism, and they prompted Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth to accuse the Republican governor of using "fuzzy math."
Education advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers have assailed the Republican-led Legislature for cutting more than $5 billion from education during the 2011 session, when the state faced a budget shortfall left by the recession.
Lawmakers are being urged to restore the funding after projections showed that the state will have better-than-expected revenue -- $101.4 billion -- to fund services over the next two years.
When asked at a Capitol news conference on the second day of the legislative session whether he favors restoring the funding, Perry instead defended education spending during his time as governor.
He said school funding grew at three times the rate of enrollment growth from 2002 to 2012.
During that period, Perry said, funding increased by 70 percent while school enrollment grew by 23 percent.
"So I think under any scenario over the last decade," Perry said, funding for public schools "has been pretty phenomenal."
Perry noted a 65 percent increase over the past five years in the number of Hispanic students who have taken the SAT. That and other trends send a "powerful message that we're getting the job done in public education," he said.
The governor stressed that he's "always been committed to public education."
Davis, who won re-election last year against an opponent endorsed by Perry, disagreed with the governor's account, saying that state education assistance to public schools has declined, particularly under the current state budget passed by the 2011 Legislature.
"His math is fuzzy math," Davis said.
"And certainly it cannot be argued that when $5.5 billion was cut from public ed last session that somehow the state was increasing its investment in the schoolchildren of Texas."
The second-term senator said the state's share of public education money has decreased when compared with the local share.
"When you look at the raw dollars and adjust for inflation over the time period the governor is talking about," she said, "the state's investment in public ed is lower -- not higher."
Perry said critics will always "stand and say we're not spending enough money."
"I don't imagine that we're ever going to quit hearing arguments about 'Are we spending enough money in public education?'" he said.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the presiding officer of the Senate, and House Speaker Joe Straus joined Perry at the news conference to give an overview of priorities for the remaining 138 days of the Legislature.
They repeated hopes that the robust revenue estimate by Comptroller Susan Combs will enable lawmakers to provide tax relief, but they said it's too early to outline specifics on accomplishing that.
Perry called the revenue projection "very good news" that validates the state's frugal approach.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief.