The Truth About the Numbers

Oh those halcyon pre-stimulus days. Governor Corbett and his allies have a habit of making outrageous claims about our state budget, then repeating them over and over again hoping that people will believe them. Lately we’ve been hearing again that the governor is merely returning state education funding to its level before Pennsylvania accepted federal stimulus dollars. (This has been a common claim since January, see “A Shameful Betrayal.”)

Amanda Godley and Paul Foster have done some digging into this absurdity and conclude, “His claim is not supported by the facts.” Using official state documents, they double and triple-checked their numbers and found the following:

The short story

  • In 2008-09 (pre-stimulus), under Gov. Rendell, the state spent $9.597 billion on PK-12 education (“basic education”).
  • In 2011-12, under Gov. Corbett, the state spent $9.225 billion on PK-12 education (“basic education”).
  • So Corbett allocated $372 million LESS last year for PK-12 education than the state spent pre-stimulus in 2008-09.

Note that there is a line item within the category “PK-12 Education – Basic Education” that is called “basic education funding” and this is the line item that Corbett usually refers to when he claims that he has simply returned state education funding to pre-stimulus amounts. But there are many, many other line items in the section of the state budget entitled “PK-12 Education – Basic Education” (things like transportation, early intervention, special education, etc.) that Corbett has reduced or eliminated. So when he refers to his “basic education spending” in claims that he is not reducing state funding for PK-12 education, he is trying to trick the public into believing that he is referring to ALL state funding for PK- 12 education rather than just one line item. (See “Dishonesty Disguised as Generosity.”)

Just last week, Corbett’s spokesman, Kevin Harley, tried this trick, claiming that the governor has “added more” to Basic Education and that “Pennsylvania taxpayers now pay more toward Basic Education than at any time in the state’s history.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5-23-12] But in a rare moment of full disclosure, even Corbett admitted the truth back in February, saying, “We reduced education funding if you look at it as a whole. … and if you listen to my words, I always talk about the basic education funding formula [also referred to as the basic education subsidy].” [Capitolwire, 2-9-2012 (subscription service); for reference, see PADems 2-10-12]

The Long Story
To figure out the 2008-09 actual spending on education, Amanda and Paul examined Gov. Rendell’s 2010-11 Executive Budget, which reports actual 2008-09 spending on education. On page 513-14 (labeled E14.15-16 at the bottom), you’ll find the PK-12 budget numbers. The leftmost column, “Actual,” is what was spent in 2008-09. The total is $9.597 billion.

To figure out the 2011-12 spending on education, they examined Gov. Corbett’s 2012-13 Executive Budget proposal, published in February. Pages 496-497 (labeled E15.12-13 at the bottom) report 2011-12 education spending under the middle column entitled “2011-12 available.” This budget does not follow the exact same format as the 2010-11 budget document, so these two sleuths double checked that they had accounted for the all programs (when programs were not cut). As we have reported here before, Gov. Corbett eliminated a number of line items and consolidated them under “Education Block Grant” to appear as if he has increased education funding, but this is just an attempt to hide decreases in funding.

Furthermore, if you compare the column entitled “2011-12 available” to the “2012-13 budget” (what Gov. Corbett is proposing for next year) you can see that the governor is proposing decreases in many categories for next year, too. The only category that is increased is employees’ pensions.

The Bottom Line
When Gov. Corbett insists that he is simply taking us back to the days before federal stimulus dollars, he is not being truthful. This governor actually spent $372 million less last year on public preK-12 education than the state spent before it started using federal stimulus money. It’s convenient to blame the loss of stimulus dollars for our current budget woes, but these numbers make it clear that Gov. Corbett is using that as a cover story. What he is really doing is slashing public funding for one of our most cherished public goods: our children’s future.

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