PoliGraph: Sifting through education funding claims

This fall, roughly 130 Minnesota school districts will put school levies to a vote.

Some of them will be asking for more tax money to fund education programming, an effort that has caught the attention of some Republican lawmakers who say schools got a big boost in the state’s new budget and shouldn’t be asking for more.

Democrats are defending the proposed levy increases, saying this biennium’s education financing isn’t as robust as Republicans say it is.

Two lawmakers at the center of the issue, state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, and Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, debated the subject on the Sept. 16 episode of TPT’s Almanac. Garofalo is chairman of the House Education Finance Committee and Greiling is the ranking member.

As voters consider the levies, they’ll be hearing a lot of conflicting, confusing numbers from both sides of the aisle.

Here’s how PoliGraph sorts them out.

Republicans are inflating school funding by “counting things like local school levies.”

During the interview, Greiling said that Republicans, including Garofalo, are using accounting tricks to boost funding numbers.

Her claim stems from a flier circulated earlier this month by the House GOP caucus that showed a statewide average increase in per-pupil funding of $488, and major funding increases in some individual districts.

To come up with that figure, the GOP compared the previous biennium’s education budget to the current biennium’s education budget which includes some funding sources outside the Legislature’s control, namely local referendum dollars. While the Legislature approves caps on levies, it’s up to the voters in each district to decide how much is ultimately approved.

Some school districts will receive $400, $500 or $600 more per student in state funding.

Even without accounting for local levies, some districts will see large per-pupil funding increases, as Garofalo correctly pointed out in the Almanac interview. More than 100 of the state’s 521 districts and charter schools will get per-pupil funding increases of more than $400 in fiscal year 2013.

State aid for schools is increasing by $650 million this biennium.

During the interview, Garofalo also said that state aid is increasing by more than $650 million this biennium. He’s using solid numbers, but his claim also leaves out some details.

In the last biennium, the state spent about $13.8 billion on K-12 education, and the current biennium it will spend about $14.5 billion – a difference of roughly $700 million and in range of the $650 million Garofalo mentioned in the interview.

The increase is comprised of about $500 million in automatic spending increases, such as special education aid, and about $200 million in new funding approved by the Legislature in the most recent budget.

Democrats and Republicans have been at odds all session over how to measure education spending changes, and Garofalo’s claim underscores that dispute.

DFLers say that Republicans are wrong to publicize the $500 million in automatic spending as an increase because schools would have received it regardless of legislative action; schools typically prepare budgets based on what they’ll get in addition to automatic aid. Democrats argue that even those regular increases don’t always cover the costs of education programming because they haven’t kept up with the rate of inflation.

Republicans counter that an increase in state aid is an increase in state aid; lawmakers could have voted to scale back those automatic spending boosts but didn’t.

SOURCES

Minnesota Public Radio News, GOP lawmakers question need for school district levies, by Tim Pugmire, Sept. 12, 2011

Minnesota Public Radio News, School districts defend funding, ballot referendums, by Tom Weber, Sept. 16, 2011

Minnesota Public Radio News, Some GOP lawmakers don’t follow Garofalo’s lead opposing school levies, by Tim Pugmire, Sept. 20, 2011

MinnPost, Accounting Trick Explains Minnesota Schools’ So-Called Windfall, by Beth Hawkins, Sept. 8, 2011

GOP flier, Kids first: Making education a priority during challenging times, accessed Sept. 20, 2011

Fiscal Year 2013 K-12 Major Revenue: Special Session Compared to Baseline, accessed Sept. 21, 2011

Fiscal Year 2013 K-12 Major Revenue: Special Session Compared to FY 11, accessed Sept. 21, 2011

Interview, Rep. Pat Garofalo, Sept. 20, 2011

Interview, Greg Crowe, House Fiscal Staff, Sept. 19, 2011

Interview, Tom Melcher, Minnesota Department of Education, Sept. 20, 2011

Interview, Charlie Vander Aarde, DFL spokesman, Sept. 20, 2011

  • Dalton Van Buren

    Yes but…where are the fact check results? Who’s faking and who’s on the level? Sounds to me like the DFL lawmakers are the tricky bookkeepers this time. Complaining that an automatic increase shouldn’t be counted as an increase is lying. I’m a DFL supporter usually but this stinks a whole bunch.

  • Mindy Greiling`

    The Poligraph does not clarify that much of the new money is for new kids and that districts go in the hole each time they enroll a new special education student, despite getting some new money for that student.