APRIL CASTRO, AP -- Gov. Rick Perry called President Barack Obama's plan to speak to the nation's school children about the importance of education "disturbing," but he said he would not advise parents to keep their children home from school that day despite calls to do so from angry critics.
"I think it's disturbing when you get this message, that you will have your kids, in a forum where the president of the United States is, obviously he's got a message there," Perry said Thursday in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. "Nobody seems to know what he's going to be talking about ... why didn't he spend more time talking to the local districts, superintendents?"
The White House announced this week that Obama plans to give a speech on the importance of education, aimed directly at the nation's school children, and streamed live on the White House Web site.
But Republican critics are calling it an effort to foist a socialist agenda on children. The conservative backlash has stunned teachers, principals and school districts who have been flooded with calls and e-mails from parents, many who don't want their children watching it and some who are threatening to keep their children at home in protest.
Some schools have announced they will not show the speech and others are leaving the decision to individual teachers.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is challenging Perry for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, expressed similar discomfort.
"I share the concerns of many parents about the president addressing schools in a way that leaves little choice for parents if the speech includes a political agenda," she said. "The original worksheet put out by the Department of Education raised this possibility and caused a legitimate public outcry."
While Perry said he understands the concerns of parents, he said he's "certainly not going to advise anybody not to send their kids to school that day."
"Hearing the president speak is always a memorable moment, speaking directly to school kids, I get that. I understand that," Perry said.
"Here's the thing that troubles me about it: that local school boards and superintendents weren't involved in the process," Perry said. "When this started it was clearly what appeared to be a mandate coming from Washington, D.C., that you will, we are going to pipe this into your schools and you will promote it."
He said it was another example the federal government trying to usurp state and local input.