In between back-to-back speaking engagements in Texas, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with sometime political adversary Gov. Rick Perry to discuss a possible waiver on the No Child Left Behind Act.
So far, Texas has not joined the almost 40 states that have asked for relief from the federal law's 2014 goals for student academic achievement. The state has held back from requesting a waiver because of concerns about adhering to the associated federal guidelines for academic standards and teacher evaluations.
Catherine Frazier, a Perry spokeswoman, said the governor was looking into the possibility of a waiver but would do what was best for the state.
"Gov. Perry has always said that he believes education is best administered at the state and local level," she said.
During their private meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, the pair also discussed the Obama administration's Community College to Career Fund and tuition rates in higher education.
In August, Duncan publicly criticized the governor, saying the state's schools had "really struggled" under his leadership.
"I feel very, very badly for the children there,” he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.
While campaigning for president, Perry repeatedly called for the shuttering of the Department of Education. The governor has also been vocal about the state's refusal to participate in the administration's Race to the Top and to accept common core curriculum standards, which he characterizes as undue federal intrusion in the classroom.
Earlier in the day, though, Duncan praised a Perry-backed Texas policy that became a liability for the governor during his failed presidential bid. Speaking with reporters after a town hall event at Austin Community College, Duncan commended the Texas law Perry signed that allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public universities.
Duncan said he, along with Obama, will continue to push for the federal DREAM Act, which would create a path to permanent residency status via higher education. The decade-old policy in Texas — which allows students to pay in-state tuition if they graduated from a Texas high school, have lived in the state for three years before applying and sign an affidavit indicating their intent to apply for permanent residency as soon as possible — is sometimes referred to as the "Texas DREAM Act."
The issue became a flashpoint during Perry's presidential campaign, particularly after a September debate in which he chided critics of the policy, saying, “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart." He later walked back the statement, calling it "inappropriate" and "over-passionate."
On Thursday, Duncan was strident on the matter, saying, "As a country, we're fundamentally backwards on this issue."
"These young people who have been in this country — often since they were infants — they’ve played by all the rules, they’ve gotten great grades, they’ve been community leaders, they’ve done community service," he said. "Then, when they graduate from high school, to see the door of opportunity slam shut on them, just makes no sense to me whatsoever."
Duncan said the administration would continue to push the federal DREAM Act until it is passed, but that in the meantime he appreciates policies like those in Texas. "This is the right investment," he said.