There have been some interesting moves in the political chess match between Gov. Nathan Deal and Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge.
Barge made the first by surprising the political establishment with his interest, and eventual announcement, that he would challenge the fellow Republican for his job in 2014.
Deal made the next move. The governor’s camp attempted to take away the main issue his new opponent will campaign on in advance of the Republican Party primary -- education.
"Governor Deal has increased education spending every year he’s been in office," said his spokesman, Brian Robinson.
PolitiFact Georgia decided to do some homework on this claim, considering the likelihood that the Deal campaign may present this point again.
Georgia’s budget runs on a 12-month fiscal year cycle. The current fiscal year began July 1 and ends June 30, 2014. Deal took office in January 2011.
Education typically accounts for the biggest spending item in the state budget. This fiscal year, the Georgia Legislature agreed to spend about $7.4 billion on k-12 education. The entire state budget was nearly $20 billion. Georgia gets additional money from the federal government and other sources. That figure has declined from about $2.8 billion in fiscal year 2011 to about $1.7 billion in each year since.
Robinson said he was referring to the total amount of money budgeted for the state’s Education Department at the end of the fiscal year. In most years, those numbers are adjusted as state revenue increases or declines and departments make additional budget requests.
FY 2011: $7,067,414,444
FY 2012: $7,075,837,688
FY 2013 $7,326,807,956
The budget adopted for Fiscal Year 2014 was $7,409,293,094.
The numbers matched fiscal year funding data from the Education Department. In each fiscal year, as Robinson said, the final budget numbers for the state Education Department increased.
But is that the whole story?
Georgia’s public school enrollment has increased by about 28,000 students, to nearly 1.7 million pupils, in the three budget cycles since Deal took office. Some people we contacted noted the enrollment increase as we conducted our research. The education budget has risen by a slightly larger percentage than student enrollment, we found.
Others say there’s some context that Robinson’s numbers miss.
The Georgia School Boards Association says Deal is not devoting enough money toward education if you factor in inflation. The Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report earlier this month that concluded Georgia’s per-student spending will decline by about 1 percent this year once you factor in inflation. The center, a left-leaning organization, found Georgia has spent nearly 15 percent less on students since fiscal year 2008. Only seven states spent a lower percentage on students, according to the report.
The left-leaning Georgia Budget Policy Institute, which has pushed state leaders to spend more on education, has looked at the education budget under Deal. It found the education budget has increased by 1.5 percent since Deal took office, as adjusted for inflation.
The U.S. inflation rate has risen by 3 percent to 4 percent since 2011, according to data we reviewed. There’s been a 4 percent increase in the final state education budgets since Deal took office.
The institute released a report earlier this year that concluded the education budget is $1 billion less than what schools should get under Georgia’s complicated Quality Basic Education formula. Claire Suggs, the institute’s senior education policy analyst, said the education budget has been underfunded for several years.
Here’s a recent breakdown of the QBE funding gap, also known as "austerity cuts." The numbers came from the Georgia Department of Education.
FY 2011: $1,089,521,696
FY 2012: $1,147,859,436
FY 2013: $1,143,762,797
FY 2014: $1,061,127,407
Since the 2003 fiscal year, state leaders have subtracted hundreds of millions of dollars from the funding formula every year. Initially, they said the austerity cuts were necessary because of a budget deficit, but the yearly cuts continued even after state revenue improved, The Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported.
"It’s not been addressed," Suggs said of the issue.
State Sen. Fran Millar, a Dunwoody Republican who served as chairman of the Senate's Education and Youth Committee, said he believed Robinson is correct, citing recent year-end budget numbers for the department. Millar also said austerity cuts for the Education Department have been less than other departments.
"I think what they’re saying is true," Millar said of Robinson’s claim.
To sum up, Deal’s spokesman said education spending has increased every year since his administration took office in January 2011.
Robinson’s numbers are correct. But there’s some context missing here. There have been continued "austerity cuts." And some would say there’s little or no increase once you factor in inflation.
We rate Robinson’s statement Mostly True.