PoliGraph: Lawmaker’s education claim only partially correct

As Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders look for an overall budget deal, individual parts of the budget are causing partisan friction.

One area is education funding. DFL lawmakers say the Republican majority is cutting K-12 funding by $44 million. Republican leaders say they’re increasing funding substantially.

“This bill spends $450 million more on education than last session,” said Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo, who chairs the Education Finance Committee, during a debate over the issue with Rep. Mindy Greiling, the top DFLer on the committee, on the May 23, 2011 broadcast of Midday.

Education finance is complicated stuff, and so is Garofalo’s claim.

The Evidence

Including $500 million in federal stimulus dollars and delayed payments of $1.9 billion to schools, the state spent about $13.812 billion on K-12 education in the last biennium. Republicans are proposing a $14.278 billion education budget, which is an increase of about $466 million over last session.

So, by that standard, Garofalo’s claim is accurate: Republicans are proposing more spending compared to the last biennium.

But state law requires all sorts of automatic spending increases to compensate for higher student enrollment, growth in special education and other factors.

And that’s where DFLers make their point. Though the Republican bill covers the bulk of those automatic spending increases, it’s still about $44 million short of the $14.321 the state was projected to spend in the coming biennium. (For their part, Republicans argue their plan is only $15 million less because of a new provision that requires school districts to pay back state loans for new buildings.)

DFLers also point out that the GOP proposal means cuts for individual school districts, including the Minneapolis, Albert Lea and St. Cloud districts, and spending increases for others, including many of the state’s charter schools.

This is partly because the current bill shifts money from one program to another. For instance, 18,000 more students will be enrolled in public schools over the next two years, and the bill increases per pupil spending from $20 to $21. But those new dollars are being funded by cuts to special education funding, according to Tom Melcher, the state’s education finance director.

The Verdict

On one hand, Garofalo’s claim is correct. His panel’s bill would increase education spending compared to the last two years and increase spending on some things, including per pupil spending.

But he neglects a fact that DFLers highlight: funding falls short of what the state would be spending if it followed current law, and that means some school districts will see cuts.

For leaving out those facts, Garofalo’s claim is misleading.

SOURCES

Minnesota Public Radio News, Midday, May 23, 2011

Gov. Mark Dayton, Letter to Rep. Kurt Zellers, May 24, 2011

Session Daily, House approves amended omnibus K-12 finance bill, by Kris Berggren, May 18, 2011

Minnesota House Fiscal Staff, General Fund Allocations – Projected FY 2012-13 Compared to FY 2010-11, March 2011

Minnesota House Fiscal Staff, Education Finance Committee: 2011 Session Appropriation Tracking, May 11, 2011

Interview, Rep. Pat Garofalo, May 31, 2011

Interview, Scott Russell, Policy Analyst, Minnesota Budget Project, June 1, 2011

Interview, Tim Strom, Legislative Analyst, Minnesota House of Representatives, June 1, 2011

Interview, Greg Crowe, Legislative Analyst, Minnesota House of Representatives, June 1, 2011

Interview, Tom Melcher, Program Finance Director, Minnesota Department of Education, June 2, 2011

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