PCCY has long advocated for a restoration of the nearly $1 billion cut from public education during Governor Corbett’s first year in office. Now there is a new argument against restoring the cuts: they never happened. In fact, the Governor and some of his supporters are claiming that he actually increased education spending by $1.5 billion. The budget can’t be both up and down by a billion dollars, so have we been wrong all this time? Has education spending really increased?
No. Halfway through Governor Corbett’s new reelection ad, he claims, “State spending on public education is at the highest level ever” and cites the Commonwealth Foundation for that quote. That should raise two red flags for anyone who pays attention to the Pennsylvania budget. The first is that he quoted someone, rather than the actual budget. The second is that it was the Commonwealth Foundation, the group that recently compared the School District of Philadelphia to communists building the Berlin Wall to “keep students trapped in schools,” and claimed that no spending cuts whatsoever were made in 2011. The Governor’s citation is based on the claim that “The $1 billion in ‘cuts’ was the expiration of temporary federal stimulus money.” Except, of course, it wasn’t.
Take, for instance, the Reimbursement of Charter School Expenditures line item. In 2009-10, it was more than $220 million in funding, covering a large chunk of school districts’ charter expenses. The budget clearly states that it was all state funds with no federal stimulus money. And there were certainly no stimulus funds used going back to the 2001-2002 school year. In 2011, the program was completely eliminated and all state funding cut. Even the Commonwealth Foundation admits that. So how again were no state education funds cut?
Semantics. Pay close attention and you’ll see that the claim is that the Governor “increased spending in the education department $1.5 billion over what it was when he came into office.” Education Department spending, not spending on education. Newsworks points out, “When Corbett claims higher spending on education, he includes larger pension contributions, which past governors didn’t count in their calculations of education spending.” So the increased spending he brags about is really just increased pension costs. Pensions he has tried to cut. Budgets can be tricky things. If you are loose enough with your definitions, you can claim they say all kinds of things. But changing definitions isn’t going to fill the giant budgetary hole created by the 2011 budget cuts. The undeniable truth is that nearly $1 billion was taken out of public education and it has not been returned. No carefully worded claims can change that.