Sunday, May 27, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact: State's school funding at record level in narrow sense

Gov. Rick Scott has trumpeted his "Florida Families First" budget as providing record-breaking money for schools, including $2,500 raises for teachers.

Scott said his $70.4 billion budget proposal "includes $10.7 billion in state funding for Florida K-12 schools, the highest state funding level in history."

We wondered: Would that indeed be a record?

The governor was very careful to specify state funding in his comments, but schools are funded by more sources than the state. The complex formula includes local taxes and, in recent years, federal stimulus dollars.

Scott's press team directed us to a breakdown of state and local school funding for the past 10 years.

Overall, Scott wants the state to spend $18.47 billion for education during the 2013-14 school year. The state's share of that would be about $10.7 billion.

So if the Legislature passes a budget that precisely mirrors Scott's education proposals, the state's share of education spending would be its highest since 2007-08, when it was $9.71 billion. In terms of the state's actual dollar investment, Scott is right that it would be the highest.

However, total state and local education spending in Scott's budget would be $280 million smaller than the 2007-08 budget signed by Gov. Charlie Crist.

What's in the $1.2 billion increase from last year's education spending? About $480 million would go toward teacher raises and $300 million would go toward the unfunded liability of the state's retirement system. There's some debate as to whether the pension funding should be considered part of an education increase, but a couple of experts told us it's reasonable because past calculations of the state's per-pupil funding have included the cost of teacher wages, part of which goes to the retirement system.

Of course, there are other ways of looking at state education spending. One is to look at spending per student.

As a whole, counting state and local funding, per-pupil funding under Scott's new budget would be $6,799. That's short of what it was before the economic recession, when per-pupil funding peaked in 2007-08 at $7,126. So back then, the state had fewer students and was providing more money for each. Now we have 85,000 more students, but less money for each one.

If you look only at the state's per-pupil level of $3,941 in Scott's new budget, it does exceed funding levels for the past 10 years in terms of actual dollars.

Finally, there's inflation to think about.

We used a Consumer Price Index calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to compare Scott's proposal with state spending on education for the past 10 years. The takeaway is that state spending on education, when adjusted for inflation, would not be significantly different than it was from 2004 to 2007.

Still, even the Florida Education Association, the state teachers union that sued Scott over the 2011 merit-pay plan, conceded the state has never invested more.

"Added money spent on public schools always helps grow our economy," said FEA President Andy Ford in a statement. "We look forward to the governor's strong advocacy of this proposal."

So to recap, Scott said his budget "includes $10.7 billion in state funding for Florida K-12 schools, the highest state funding level in history."

Floridians hearing this statement might think that means education funding for Florida schools has never been higher. That's not the case.

Actually, Scott is referring only to the state government's specific contribution to overall spending. Scott drums up the state share as an historic investment, and it is in terms of actual dollars.

But there are also local and federal dollars that fund Florida schools. When you consider those, Scott's overall recommendation for education spending is still short of what Florida students received before the economic crash. It's about the same as it was under Gov. Jeb Bush when considering inflation.

Scott's claim is partially accurate, but it leaves out important details that would give a different impression. We rate this claim Half True.

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