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Perry Defends Ed. Record, Gingrich Praises Race to Top

Republican contenders at Sept. 7, 2011, debateGov. Rick Perry, the frontrunner among GOP presidential candidates, just cannot get away from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's criticism of his record on education in Texas.

During the Republican candidates' debate Wednesday night, NBC's Brian Williams hit the Lone Star State governor with a question on the cuts he's made to education in Texas. This past session, lawmakers there rewrote state budget rules so that they could provide schools with $4 billion less over the next two years to help close a $27 billion shortfall on a $127 billion state budget. (For more on what went down, check out this story.)

But Perry said cutting education hasn't hurt results in the state.

"The reductions we made were thoughtful reductions," he said. "We're making progress" in boosting student achievement, including for some minority populations, he said. And he said the state has challenges because it "shares a border with Mexico. We have a unique situation. I stand by the record [we have] for what we've done with the resources we have."

Perry also noted that Facebook and other big companies have recently come to Texas, which he said is proof that the state has a strong educational system. (Check out fellow Politics K-12 blogger Michele McNeil's look at Duncan's claim that he "feels sorry" for the children of Texas here.)

In another education nugget, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has worked with the Rev. Al Sharpton to spread a pro-charter school, pro-merit pay agenda, was asked why he's a fan of Race to the Top, the Obama administration's signature education reform program. Gingrich said he likes the fact that Race to the Top called on states to expand their charter schools and said this is "the one area where I very much agree with [Obama]." Gingrich is a fan of anything that broadens choice in education.

Campaign 2012Gingrich also said he'd like to see "Pell Grants" for K-12 schools, which sounds like vouchers to help low-income students go to private schools. Interestingly, President George W. Bush proposed a program with almost exactly the same name back in 2008. It never went anywhere.

Other K-12 tidbits, at the debate, which was held at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California and sponsored by NBC News and Politico:

• Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, said offhandly that he doesn't think the federal government should micromanage education.

• U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, said he doesn't think that schools should have to educate the children of illegal immigrants. (The Supreme Court disagrees, or at least it did back in Plyler vs. Doe.)

Photo: Republican presidential candidates, from left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; businessman Herman Cain; and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman answer questions during the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

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