Cuts or No Cuts?

Over the past several months, there have been numerous stories about the “true” plight of education funding in the state of Texas. Some of the people that are weighing in with their comments and views claim that education funding in the state of Texas was actually increased during this last legislative session. Below is an article from the Equity Center. This article does a good job in explaining how these claims are being made. The key point to remember is that the federal funds that flowed to Texas and ultimately to school districts were one time revenue sources.  

Suppose your boss comes to you and says, “We got a one-time windfall insurance settlement, so instead of paying your salary this year totally out of our operating revenue, we’re going to pay 10% of it from the insurance money.” Since it doesn’t affect you, you don’t care. The next year your boss says, “We’re paying you the same money out of our operating account this year as we did last year, so don’t worry, there aren’t any cuts.” To you, of course, it’s a 10% cut because the one-time insurance money went away.

What’s the point of this story? It is an illustration of misdirection, the kind that magicians use when they make the impossible appear to happen. It’s also an illustration of what some Texas state officials are doing when they claim – falsely – that funding for schools wasn’t cut this year. Many of them claim that funding was actually increased. Most often, they pretend it was a $1.6 billion increase, but one top official was quoted in an recent news article that they had appropriated more money for public education than was ever before appropriated in the state of Texas — $3.8 billion more for the Foundation School Program. He said that school groups are upset, “because they did not get what they hoped for. They expected an $8 billion increase, and they got a $4 billion increase (and are calling that a cut).”

But this is no harmless magic trick. When school officials and other supporters of public education say that funding for education was cut and the response is, “No, it was increased, but just not as much as they wanted,” there are several vicious implications being made. First and foremost, supporters of public education are being called liars. Second, and perhaps equally damaging, it implies that educators and those who care about education are greedy to the point of being insatiable.

But surely, you say, everyone knows the truth and understands that state funding for education was cut, right? Wrong! If the “funding was increased” story isn’t answered, quickly and forcefully, every time it is trotted out, it will be believed. If it forms people’s first impression of what happened last Session, it will be extremely hard to get them to see the truth and change their minds.

So how does this game of illusion work?

The easiest explanation is that there are multiple accounts from which the Foundation School Program (FSP) is funded. To create the myth of an increase, they selectively use only a few of the accounts that give them the best-looking numbers (i.e., the sources that actually increased) and pretend that the sources that went down didn’t exist or aren’t “general revenue.”

Of course, the 800-lb. gorilla of that was the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) “stimulus” money. When the 2009 appropriations conference committee, at the last moment, reduced general revenue (GR) for public schools by $3.6 billion ($3.25 B for the FSP) and substituted ARRA funds, the explanation was, “This isn’t a cut because you have to count the stimulus money.” Now, when they compare GR from this biennium to last biennium, they say, “It isn’t a cut because you can’t count the stimulus money,” just like the boss in the story above.

Unless you cherry-pick a few numbers out of context that don’t tell the whole story, funding for public schools was cut by the Legislature in 2011.

That is not an illusion. It is real.

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