In August 2014, as the race between former Gov. Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner hit full throttle, no issue was more hotly contested than Rauner’s charge that Quinn had reduced spending on K-12 education as state finances spiraled ever-downward under his leadership.
Specifically, the Rauner campaign cited Illinois State Board of Education data that showed school funding going from $7.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2009 to $6.8 billion in FY 2015. Rauner said that amounted to a $600 million reduction. Quinn, however, said his administration actually increased state-level funding during that time by $442 million.
Whether school funding increased or decreased from FY 2009 to FY 2015 depended on whether you counted $1.8 billion in federal economic stimulus money in your calculation. Rauner did, Quinn didn’t. The issue never was settled, and seemed to disappear after Rauner defeated Quinn in the 2014 election.
Then came Governor’s Day at the Illinois State Fair on Aug. 17. Rauner is not up for election this year, but his legislative agenda is. His campaign fund in recent weeks has given $10 million to the Illinois Republican Party to support GOP candidates who are running against what Rauner describes as a "corrupt machine" run by Democrats. Throughout the summer, Rauner has revived some of the themes that were a big part of his own, successful campaign two years ago.
As he rallied the Republican faithful at the fairgrounds for the final charge to Election Day, Rauner reached back into his 2014 campaign quiver for another shot at Democrats’ stewardship of school funding in Illinois.
"They are strangling our state. They are driving jobs away. They are raising your taxes to the highest property taxes in America. They are building massive government bureaucracy everywhere, crushing our economy," Rauner told an enthusiastic crowd. "They are cutting our school funding. Four times in the last 10 years before we came into office."
So here we are again, almost exactly two years from when this debate first erupted, only this time the argument is expanded to include all Illinois Democrats and narrowed to "four times" that they cut school funding. We decided to dig back in and find out if it’s true.
Rauner’s office provided us with figures from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget from FY 2000 to FY 2015 (the last year in which Illinois had a state budget) to illustrate the trend, and said the years referred to in the speech were FY 2010-FY 2013.
During those years, elementary and secondary education funding went from $7.32 billion to $6.55 billion.
Clearly there’s a decline in school funding over that period. But was it the result of "cutting," as Rauner claims, or because federal stimulus money ended?
"General Funds spending on education in FY2010 is shown in budget documents as $7.3 billion. But that number includes $790.8 million in federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Some analysts might deduct that amount to maximize comparability, which would reduce the General Funds figure for FY2010 to $6.5 billion. Based on that calculation, General Funds spending on education increases by $358 million to $6.8 billion in FY2015. Similarly, budget documents in FY2009 show education spending at $7.4 billion, but that amount includes $1.0 billion of stimulus funding. Deducting that amount results in General Funds spending of $6.3 billion in FY2009 and an increase of $522 million to $6.8 billion in FY2015."
The Civic Federation’s analysis is impartial and it offers no opinion on which version -- including stimulus funding or excluding it -- is preferred. Thus it scrupulously avoids making a "cut or no cut" judgment.
But it affirms the credibility of assessing state-level school funding in the post-recession years without the emergency federal money, which was designed to offset the Great Recession’s economic downturn for school budgets. By that measure, the FY2010-FY2013 span we’re examining would see school funding go from $6.541 billion in 2010 to $6.55 billion in 2013.
Not robust growth, but not the precipitous $772 million decline shown when the federal money from 2010 is included.
There’s also a piece of evidence that both supports Quinn’s claim in 2014 that he increased school funding and bolsters Rauner’s argument about overall mismanagement of the state budget by Quinn as governor and, today, by the Democrats who control the General Assembly.
Midway through FY 2011, Quinn and the Democratic majority passed a controversial, four-year income tax increase that raised the personal income tax from 3 to 5 percent and the corporate tax rate from 4.8 to 7 percent. The increase was intended to pay down the state’s $6.5 billion in unpaid bills and prevent cuts to core services, including education.
"The governor led that fight to raise revenue in 2011 and allowed us to avoid radical cuts to education," Quinn campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson told the Associated Press in October 2014 as debate raged over whether Quinn had cut or increased education funding.
Debate over that tax increase was a major component of the 2014 gubernatorial campaign. To Rauner, it was yet another dagger to the heart of Illinois’ struggling economy, and a symptom of a Democratic party bereft of ideas to get Illinois back on track.
To Quinn, it was a necessary if unpopular move to, among other things, preserve school funding.
Two former state budget directors we contacted -- Steve Schnorf, who was Gov. George Ryan’s budget director from 1997-2002, and Joan Walters, who worked under Gov. Jim Edgar from 1991 to 1997 -- declined an invitation to weigh in on the main question here. But both said an important clue in making a ruling would come from examining how the stimulus money was used.
If used to replace state funding missing due to the bad economy, as it was intended, then its loss should not be interpreted as a cut. If the state used it to fund programs or projects that would prove unsustainable when the money went away, Rauner’s assessment would be accurate.
But improper use of the funding never was at issue. Rauner’s statements during the campaign two years ago and again this year dealt strictly with the numbers.
Rauner said of Democrats, "They are cutting our school funding. Four times in the last 10 years before we came into office."
Rauner’s office said the years referred to in the speech were FY 2010-2013.
While school funding did decline in fiscal years 2010-2013, it’s inaccurate to say it happened because of "cutting."
In fact, as noted by the Civic Federation and in state budgets from the years in question, state-level funding -- which is controlled by the General Assembly and the governor -- increased slightly during those four years. Expand the years to FY 2009-2015 and the increase in state funding came to $522 million.
Quinn’s record tax increase of 2011 is perhaps the greatest piece of evidence in support of Quinn’s aversion to cutting and in support of his claim that he boosted school funding.
Illinois for two years has been a philosophical battleground in which Republicans, led by Rauner, have argued that Illinois’ abysmal unemployment rate is the product of 12 years of Democratic control of state government. Much of their argument has involved Democratic policies that they believe have made Illinois an unfriendly state for business.
But in claiming that Democrats cut school spending in the final years of their hold on the governor’s office, Rauner resurrects an allegation that should have stayed buried after he won the election.
We rate this claim Mostly False.