Capitolwire: Corbett says 'We reduced education funding if you look at it as a whole.'
Reprinted with permission.
By Peter L. DeCoursey
MT. JOY (Feb. 9) – Gov. Tom Corbett, two days after chiding critics for saying he cut state funding for the K-12 public basic education formula, made an admission.
He said his administration had cut overall state funding for K-12 public schools in the current budget.
On Tuesday, in his budget address, Corbett said: "There has been some confusion, even deception, about what we did and did not do with the Basic Education formula last year. Some keep insisting we cut Basic Ed. This urban legend was spread by those who have the most to gain from additional funding at taxpayer expense.
"Here is the truth. When the Obama Administration handed states billions of dollars in stimulus monies the previous administration reduced the state’s share in the Basic Education funding formula. In its place, they put the stimulus funds. Almost a billion dollars worth.
"These funds were one-time only earmarks by the president. The last thing they were intended for was to pay continuing, yearly, operating costs such as salaries. ... That money is gone. It’s not coming back.
"What we did, my administration and the men and women of the General Assembly, was to replace the state’s share of money. In fact, at more than $5.3 billion, last year’s budget was the largest amount the state’s taxpayers have ever put into the Basic Education funding formula. The largest until this year.
"So, I want the various special interests out there to understand this: If we are going to debate education funding, let’s use real numbers."
Not counting the no-longer-available federal stimulus funds Corbett repeatedly said as a candidate for governor that he would not replace, he inherited a budget that gave school districts a K-12 subsidy, plus $529 million more:
• $250 million for accountability block grants;
• $229 million for charter school reimbursements;
• $50 million for tutoring programs.
After negotiations, Corbett agreed to add back only $100 million for block grants. But that did not go into the current budget. Instead it was added retroactively into the 2010-2011 budget, after that school year ended.
So it was to be spent this year. So the overall $529 million in Corbett's proposed cuts in the current budget year cuts fell to $429 million less in state funds for school districts to spend this year than last.
The Corbett administration also used $380 million in federal stimulus funds that arrived mid-last-year to backfill the 2010-11 budget, leaving more state funds to fund 2011-2012’s education budget.
Various education groups added varying amounts of unreplaced federal funds to come up with estimates that school districts lost $800 million in funding, not $429 million, by adding the $380 million in late federal funding. Others counted all the lost federal stimulus funding, estimating the cut at $1.1 billion.
Corbett says he hiked education spending to $6.51 billion this year, $20 million up from last year. Education groups say it is up only $6 billion. With no money proposed to replace the $100 million from the old block grant program, this budget will give schools $80 million to $94 million less to spend than they got this year from the state.
Today, after touring Mt. Joy Wire to see that 130-person business, the governor was asked if the $429 million in lost state funding for schools compared to last year, meant he “cut education funding the state used to give?”
He responded: “We reduced education if you a take a look at it as a whole. But it wasn’t $800 million. … and if you listen to my words, I always talk about the basic education funding formula,” he said, also referred to as the basic education subsidy. “People on the outside say we cut that formula. We have not. In fact we have increased that formula.”
But the reductions in overall state funding for public K-12 education, Corbett said, motivated him “to go to a block grant program” for state education funding.
He said that means that all of the state funding “will go to the school districts and that they will be able to use the money in the ways that they see necessary, particularly if they have savings in one area and needs in another area.
“And in the old system, they wouldn’t have been able to move the money around. We’re giving them that flexibility because we are” reducing state education spending overall: “In that respect in these other areas, we have reduced” state funding to schools, he said.
But Corbett remained upset about being accused of cutting the basic education subsidy or formula. The proposed funding ensures, his officials have said, that school districts will get next year at least what they got this year, not counting the funds some districts got from the $100 million carry-over accountability block grant program.
The governor said: “…when it comes to the basic funding formula, and that’s what I was accused of cutting, we did not cut.”
Teachers unions and other education groups have often responded to that comment that the overall funding reduction was their point. Corbett disagreed.