Across the State of Texas, school districts have had their state funding cut, resulting in layoffs, and a proliferation of lawsuits against the State. Estimates put the shortfall for 2012/2013 at $4 billion over the previous biennium, and locally school districts like Lewisville and Denton are seeing shortfalls of $54 million and $28 million respectively over the next two years. Dallas ISD just announced that they will be closing 11 schools.
So we were surprised to see Texas State Representative Myra Crownover (R, Denton) claiming credit for an "increase" in state education spending front and center on her campaign website. Crownover is running for re-election in district 64, which covers the central section of Denton County, including most of the City of Denton. Crownover had this statement on her campaign website:
"We also were able to increase state spending on Education by $1.6 Billion even in the face of the worst recession in decades."
Increase? How is that? It seems that Republican legislators have decided it's easier to spin the situation than level with the public about the dark clouds over public education in the coming biennium. We checked the campaign websites of local representatives Burt Solomons, who had no mention of education funding at all, and Tan Parker, who only claimed a $5 billion increase in funding from the time he took office in 2006, but was somewhat straightforward about the $4 billion cut.
Crownover's claim is egregious, so although other writers have documented the basis of these Republican claims, but we'll take a quick stab at them too:
1. One claim is that the budget sub-category for public education, the biggest part of the state's education budget (the other part being higher education) actually increased slightly. Our research based on state budget documents shows this is simply not true. The public education appropriations decreased by $2.8 billion from $50.3 billion to $47.4 billion.
2. Some, like Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (Running for U.S. Senate) claim that the $4 billion was because the expected increase was $8 billion under previous funding formulas, but the state only increased funding by $4 billion. This incredible claim is wrong for two simple reasons: First, funding did not increase by $4 billion, or any amount. Funding decreased. Secondly, his assertion assumes the state had no legal or moral obligation to stick to the formulas it agreed to, and which school districts budgeted based on. Just like anything in our economy, education costs are affected by both inflation and volume. When costs increase, you need more money to provide the same level of service. When the number of students increases, you have to hire additional teachers, build more classrooms, run more busses, use more electricity, and buy more textbooks.
3. In the last biennium, the State of Texas received roughly $3 billion extra from the Federal government for education funding. Republicans claim that since the $3 billion is gone, and the state is making up the difference, that "state funding" is increasing. In other words, it's different when it's our (as Texas taxpayers') money versus our (as American taxpayers') money. The problem is that it's simply not true that the state portion of funding increased. In fact, the State of Texas's funding of Education actually decreased by $465 million.
In fact, lawmakers were well aware that the money was a one-time infusion meant to supplement education, but instead, the Texas legislature used the funds to balance the state budget, which was looking at a huge shortfall due to an under-performing business franchise tax. So the $3 billion supplanted education funds the state would have had to spend under existing formulas. Legislators knew full well they were kicking the can down the road, and chose to do nothing to increase revenue. Making things worse, in 2006, the Legislature took away roughly one third of local districts' taxing authority making districts more reliant on state aid. Crownover was part of that legislature.
The State of Texas portion of total education funding decreased from $65.6 billion in 2008-09 to $62.4 billion in 2010-11, dropping about $3.2 billion in the same period that the state got the extra $3.2 billion in stimulus aid for education. Amazing how that works, right? This sleight of hand was the basis for the Doggett amendment
that would have required the state to maintain its level of education funding throughout 2013 in order to receive the latest installment of federal aid. Knowing the jig was up if state lawmakers had to use the money in the way it was intended, Texas Republicans in Congress, including local Congressman Michael Burgess had the law repealed
as part of the final deal that ended the showdown where Republicans had threatened to shut down the Federal government.
Looking at the Numbers
In the various news articles and publications by political and advocacy groups, we saw a variety of numbers used to represent the (real) shortfall in funding and (fake) increase. Budgets can be notoriously difficult to decipher due to the number of categories and sub categories and various revenue sources, and news articles have used a variety of sources based on various methodologies and methods of rounding. So we decided to go straight to the source and use the freshly issued, January 2012 Legislative Budget Board "Fiscal Size-up", along with previous years. We took education appropriations and revenue sources from the current and previous bienniums and tried to find any way that Crownover's $1.6 billion increase claim could be true.
We left phone messages on Friday with Crownover's district and Austin offices (both apparently closed), and sent an email asking for clarification of her statement, and any source that we could verify. Crownover did not respond.
As you can see from the attached spreadsheet, in every single measure (save one) and methodology we tried, the 2012-13 biennium was a decrease. The only increase we were able to find was a $1.6 billion increase in non-stimulus FEDERAL funding for education. We looked at total education, public education, federal funding, federal stimulus funding, and state funding. We compared current to past appropriations, and current to past budget and estimated. In no way that we saw, did state funding for education increase at all.
This squares with the situation on the ground here in Lewisville, where state funding shortfalls added to an already inadequate system. Lewisville ISD Superintendent, Dr. Steve Waddell was asked about the quote and responded: "It's disingenuous for the legislature to make this claim that they've added funds. If this statement is accurate, then why did the state cut $54 million over two years from LISD's budget?"
Lewisville ISD is one of about 60 school districts in the Texas School Coalition who are suing the state over inadequate funding. LISD has just gone through its second round of voluntary resignation incentives to shed teachers and staff.
Myra Crownover touts her receipt of the "Courageous Conservative" award in 2011, yet when it comes to making the difficult decisions and telling the truth about them, she shows distinct cowardice. It's not only disingenuous to assert that you've increased funding when it's clearly and demonstrably false, it's reprehensible. It's a lie calculated only to win support for re-election from the gullible or misinformed. The simple truth of the matter is that the funding formula for Texas schools was already flawed, unfair, and inadequate. The Legislature failed in its most important job this past session, putting political appeasement of anti-tax mobs ahead of Texas children.
We think Crownover's statement is beyond misleading and amounts to a lie, plain and simple. An elected legislator ought to be held to a high standard of conduct that includes truth-telling, even when that truth is difficult to swallow, and will not please everyone. She needs to remove the statement from her website and come clean with the truth. Crownover wants to have her cake and eat it too, continuing to sell the myth that you can increase spending on education and not raise taxes. But here in the real Texas, where we can't borrow or print money for our expenses, that money has to come from somewhere.
We hope that 2012 will be the year that voters hold their legislators accountable for putting politics and ideology ahead of our children's education and our collective future.
- Failure to fund is BANKRUPTCY
- Lewisville ISD Considers Incentives to Shed 500 Teachers
- Lewisville ISD Mulls Another Round of Cuts, Considers Lawsuit.