PoliGraph: Dayton education claim debatable

Mark Dayton’s latest TV ad takes aim at Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s education funding record.

“Pawlenty cut funding by $1,300 a student,” according to the DFL gubernatorial candidate’s television spot.

Dayton gets his numbers right, but his claim should come with some caveats.

The Evidence

Minnesota public schools receive funding from a variety of sources, including state and local taxes, fees and federal dollars.

Dayton’s claim focuses on state aid, and originated with research done by Jeff Van Wychen, a fellow with the think tank Minnesota 2020.

The numbers are straightforward: Adjusted for inflation, the state gave schools about $8 billion in 2003; in fiscal year 2011, schools will get $6.9 billion. Using attendance figures from the Minnesota Department of Education, inflation adjusted per-student funding has dropped by about $1,300 from $9,700 in 2003 to about $8,400 in 2011.

But experts say it’s important to view these figures in context.

Most agree that accounting for inflation is fair when looking at the state’s long-term education spending because it helps determine schools’ purchasing power. But they pointed out that Dayton does not make it clear that he’s talking inflation-adjusted numbers.

In fact, the hard numbers show that if you take out inflation, state aid for schools has been on a slight upward trend under Pawlenty’s administration.

According to Minnesota Management and Budget, in nominal dollars schools received about $6 billion in state aid in fiscal year 2003. Since then, the number has slowly risen to the current figure of $6.9 billion.

The Verdict

On one hand, Dayton’s claim is correct: Factoring in inflation, per-student state aid has dropped by about $1,300. What that figure demonstrates is that schools are getting less for every dollar they spend on students today than they did in 2003.

What Dayton’s ad fails to point out is that, in nominal dollars, education funding has increased slightly, though perhaps not dramatically enough to keep up with cost of educating Minnesotans. So, to say that Pawlenty cut funding is misleading. In fact, Pawlenty has frequently protected K-12 education dollars in his budget, as he did in his most recent proposal.

As a result, Dayton’s claim is inconclusive.


MarkDayton.org, “Forged” TV ad, accessed July 19, 2010

Minnesota 2020, Minnesota’s School Investment Keeps Falling, by Jeff Van Wychen, accessed July 19, 2010

Minnesota 2020, Taking the Spin out of Inflation Estimates, by Jeff Van Wychen, accessed July 19, 2010

Minnesota Management and Budget, May 2010 End of Legislative Session Price of Government, accessed July 19, 2010

Minnesota Public Radio News, Pawlenty uses stimulus money to reverse budget cuts, by Tim Pugmire, March 17, 2009

Minnesota Public Radio News, Pawlenty’s budget: K-12 spared, higher ed sees cuts, by Tom Weber, Feb. 15, 2010

Interview, Brian Klass, policy director, Mark Dayton, July 19, 2010

Interview, Jeff Van Wychen, fellow, Minnesota 2020, July 19, 2010

Interview, Aaron Twait, Research Director, Minnesota Taxpayers Association, July 19, 2010

Interview Jim Horney, Director of Federal Fiscal Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 19, 2010

Interview, Tim Strom, Legislative Analyst, Minnesota House of Representatives, July 19, 2010

Interview, Jay Kiedrowski, Senior Fellow, the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, July 19, 2010

Interview, Curt Yoakum, spokesman, Minnesota Management and Budget, July 20, 2010

Interview, Scott Croonquist, Executive Director, Association of Metropolitan School Districts, July 21, 2010


The Humphrey Institute

  • Why in the last decade did most suburban schools in the metro adopt Referendums to increase funding for schools?

    Because Pawlenty flatlined school budgets. Historically, not only have metro homeowners paid increased property taxes, because Pawlenty decreased county and city aide, but homeowners also chipped in more tax dollars to keep their schools at the level of excellence they have come to expect.

    The proof:

    During the Pawlenty gubernatorial tenure, Minnesota’s real financial investment in public schools declined by 14%. That shift has forced school districts to cuts programs, increase class size, and seek greater support from the school district’s property owners through higher property taxes. The result is less money, more anxiety and diminishing public confidence in public schools.


  • Rex Newman

    BUT: Which inflation rate – the CPI or the higher, some say overstated Government Price Deflator?

  • Random Guy

    So yes, if you ignore the fact that the value of the dollar is down and that inflation makes things cost more (a basic principle in economics), spending has increased for education!

    This is pretty one-sided.

    Funding has increased by less than inflation, when it should have been increased by at least the value of inflation to ensure that schools were able to receive the same value instead of less value.

  • AAA

    I love the sources used to inconclusively “fact check” this one. The who’s who of liberal think tanks and activist groups, heck they even asked Dayton’s opponent Entenza’s MN 2020 group to weigh in.

    Why the next thing you know, they’ll ask DFL party to write these for them… although it may be hard to tell when that happens.

    I think this little experiment has run its course. Maybe you should not bother if you subscribe to the theory that unless Government spending increases at or above inflation, its a cut.

  • Pete

    Here’s a fact: When government spending doesn’t meet increases in inflation, it’s a cut.

  • AAA

    Do I need a passport to get back to planet reality?

    Let’s say this marathon of deficit spending be Dems in DC causes inflation to hit double digits…. you saying that if state level spending doesn’t match the increase, that its a cut.

    No wonder this state is in such a fiscal mess. Apparently Govt’s job is to spend money hand over first.

  • Tom

    “Here’s a fact: When government spending doesn’t meet increases in inflation, it’s a cut.”

    So, in those years when the economy is growing and producing more tax revenue without and increase in tax rates – should that be considered a tax increase?

  • Pete

    “So, in those years when the economy is growing and producing more tax revenue without and increase in tax rates – should that be considered a tax increase?”

    When Conservative governments face deficits, they cut. When they face growth, they cut. Necessities like public education rarely recover from the unrelenting attacks of Conservative government. The best we can hope for is new leadership that will at least give our public education system a fighting chance to adequately educate our children.

  • Jamie Wellik

    I served as a treasurer and at one time a business manager for a public school:

    The composition (mix) of school funding sources (local, state, federal) has changed significantly since 2003.

    In particular, the State’s share of school budgets has declined because of greater federal spending (No Child Left Behind) and local operating levies.

    Dayton uses this to paint a misleading picture.

    FY2003 (actual) State School spending was $6.1 billion, or 27.7% of total State/Local Gov’t revenues of $22 billion.

    For FY2003, the state’s share of total school spending was 73.5% ($8.3 billion from local, state, and federal sources).


    FY2011 (estimated) State School spending : $7.0 billion, or 23% of total State/Local Gov’t revenues of $30.5 billion

    (Notes, this is a 38.6% increase in revenues over FY2003)

    For FY2011, the state’s share of total school spending fell to 64% ($10.9 billion from local, state, and federal sources.)

    So school revenues have increased by $2.6 billion (30%) while the state’s spending has only increased by $.9 billion (13.5%).

  • JackU

    The ad talks about spending per student. None of the responses that have provided explanations on why this calculation is fuzzy have examined the other factor in determining this rate. What has happened to the Minnesota K12 population in the last 8 years?

    For example (using small numbers for easy calculations) if:

    2003: 1 million dollars for 250 students that’s 4,000/student

    2011: 1.2 million dollars (an increase of 20%) for 325 students (an increase of 30%) that’s 3,692/student (a decrease of 308 dollars or 8% per student.)

    So if the student population increases at a rate greater than the funding increases then you will “cut” the funding per student. Also I don’t think the changes in where schools get money enters into the political equation. This is a claim about cutting funding per student at the state level. I don’t think it matters that the money is made up from some other source. Dayton is bashing the Governor on his fund priorities. I thought the federal money was supposed to supplement, not replace state and/or local money.

    If someone has all the numbers I’d love to see a more precise calculation.