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Education cuts? It depends

Published by Matt Nussbaum on .

So, did Governor Corbett cut state spending on education? Or did he increase it? Well, it depends.

Education is the most important issue for voters in Pennsylvania’s upcoming gubernatorial election, according to polls. Democrats have spent years attacking Gov. Tom Corbett for cutting education spending, and it seems that the message has resonated with voters. Gov. Corbett has, they claim, cut education spending by a billion dollars.

Gov. Corbett, on the other hand, says the exact opposite. According to his campaign website: “Education funding for Pennsylvania’s kids has increased by more than $1 billion since Gov. Corbett took office.”

Wait, what?

Someone must be lying, right? Well, actually, no not really. It just depends how you look at it. So here’s the story, and it’s up to the voters of Pennsylvania to decide which version they prefer.

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, everyone’s finances were devastated, and that included states. Falling incomes and failing businesses means declining tax returns – that, in turn, leads to tighter budgets.

In the face of such a disaster, the newly inaugurated Obama Administration took an FDR/New Deal-style approach with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – popularly known as the stimulus, or ARRA. The idea was that an infusion of federal dollars, to the tune of around $800 billion, would help make up for the overall decline in demand in the economy. A good chunk of the money went to states to help them fill their budget shortfalls caused by the recession.

Facing falling revenues, Governor Ed Rendell reduced the state contribution to public education funding but more than made up for it with federal stimulus dollars. The Corbett campaign has treated this as some kind of pseudo-scandal, with an administration briefing document saying stimulus money “should never have been used in school operating budgets.”

But the stimulus was intended to do exactly what Gov. Rendell used it for – to help cushion the recession’s blow to the state. This was not unique to Pennsylvania.

A 2012 report from the Center on Education Policy states: “ARRA funding helped to blunt the effects of the budget cuts in k-12 education faced by most school districts and many states.”

Because of Gov. Rendell’s use of the stimulus money, education funding in Pennsylvania increased in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 budgets.

Without remaining stimulus funds, that state would have had to significantly increase its contribution to education in 2011-2012. It did not, and education funding fell in the 2011-2012 budget, and then increased from that level in the 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 budgets, but only just reached the stimulus-aided level of 2009-2010, which itself was lower than the stimulus-aided level in 2010-2011.

Here you have it, in chart form:

YEAR

Basic Education Funding in Pennsylvania

2007-2008 (Rendell)

$4.95 billion

2008-2009 (Rendell)

$5.23 billion

2009-2010 (Rendell)

$5.52 billion*

2010-2011 (Rendell)

$5.77 billion**

2011-2012 (Corbett)

$5.35 billion

2012-2013 (Corbett)

$5.40 billion

2013-2014 (Corbett)

$5.52 billion

2014-2015 (Corbett)

$5.53 billion

*$4.87 billion from the state, with additional $654 million in federal stimulus.

**$4.73 billion from the state, with additional $1.04 billion in federal stimulus.

So, where do both sides get their numbers?

The Democrats are using the 2010-2011 stimulus-aided $5.77 billion as the base-line. With that as the starting point, you get a $420 million cut in ’11-’12, a $370 million cut in ’12-’13, a $250 million cut in ’13-’14 and a $240 million cut in ’14-15. That adds up to $1.28 billion in funding over four years that would have been there had the number been kept at $5.77 billion. It was not, and the Democrats can thus claim, credibly, that education has been cut by over a billion dollars.

Now, to Gov. Corbett’s claim that he has increased education funding by a billion dollars. For his base-line he uses the state’s $4.73 billion contribution in 2010-2011, and ignores all of the federal stimulus dollars that went to education. With $4.73 billion as the base-line, state aid to education went up by $620 million in ’11-’12, then another $50 million in ’12-’13, $120 million in ’13-’14 and $10 million in ’14-’15.

The question then, for voters, is basically how they want to count.

Also, here are some graphs, specifically tailored to your political viewpoint. And yes, I used a website called “Kids’ Zone” to make these, because excel is too complicated.

For you non-partisans:

pabasicedfunding graphicA

For Democrats:

demeducationfunding graphicB

For Republicans:

gopeducationfunding graphicC

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