Sunday, December 21st, 2014
Mostly True
Fix Austin Schools
Says that under Rick Perry’s plan, "Texas has cut funding for public schools by 25%."

Fix Austin Schools on Saturday, May 4th, 2013 in a leaflet.

Group says that under Perry's plan, Texas cut funding for schools 25 percent

Fix Austin Schools sent voters a mailer with this image and message about Rick Perry in May 2013.

Fix Austin Schools, a group advocating voter approval of four bond propositions benefiting the Austin school district, slammed Gov. Rick Perry’s "education plan" in a leaflet fielded by local voters in early May 2013.

Under the word "cut" in capital letters, one side of the leaflet says: "Under Rick Perry, Texas has CUT funding for public schools by 25%," a conclusion attributed to PolitiFact.

Lynda Rife, a consultant to the group, told us the claim echoed our January 2013 review of Perry’s statement to reporters at the time that Texas public school funding grew at three times the rate of enrollment from 2002 to 2012.

In raw terms, there was a basis for Perry’s claim. However, after adjusting for inflation and the effect of an annual tax swap put in motion by lawmakers and Perry in 2006, we concluded that Texas schools in 2012 were fielding 25 percent less in state aid than what they reaped in 2002. Perry’s claim drew a rating of False.

At the time, we looked at enrollment changes and at both overall school spending, counting dollars from state, federal and local sources, and state education aid alone.

Enrollment

Enrollment increased about 20 percent from 2001-02 to 2011-12, from more than 4.1 million to nearly 5 million students, according to a December 2012 report by the Texas Education Agency. By email, agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe told us 2012-13 enrollment was expected to exceed 5 million, a figure subsequently confirmed, Ratcliffe told us recently by email.

Overall spending

Overall school expenditures totaled $27.9 billion in 2002 and $44.2 billion in 2012, according to a chart from the Legislative Budget Board, which tracks fiscal issues for lawmakers.

That makes for a difference of 58 percent, though that’s also before adjusting for inflation, which the board’s staff did by converting figures to 2004 dollars using an inflation adjuster devised by the federal government, the Implicit Price Deflator for State and Local Government.

 In 2004 dollars, Texas public school spending in 2002 totaled $30.1 billion. In 2012, the total was $33.3 billion--11 percent greater than in 2002.

By this measure, then, it looks like school enrollment went up faster than spending. Then again, we learned, these figures were not behind Perry’s statement.

State spending alone

Perry’s then-spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, told us by email that Perry was referring to the difference in state education spending alone "as those are the funds the state has control over."

The budget board’s chart shows $10.9 billion in state spending on the schools in 2002 and $18.9 billion in 2012, for a 73 percent difference, or a little more than Perry’s declared 70 percent.

Adjusting for inflation, though, reduces the increase to 20 percent, which was still outpacing enrollment growth. In 2004 dollars, such spending was $14.2 billion in 2012, compared with $11.8 billion in 2002.

Another crucial factor

Analyst Eva DeLuna Castro of the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities and school lobbyist Lynn Moak, a former Texas Education Agency official, each pointed out another wrinkle, suggesting that any consideration of state education spending should take into account changes in law approved in 2006 resulting in the state picking up about $7 billion more in annual costs in return for school districts cutting local maintenance and operation property tax rates.

Castro said by email: "The property tax cut was $14.2 billion a biennium, or $7.1 billion every year. That means the state had to put in that amount of money a year to offset local property taxes falling by the same amount."

The shift in funding sources did not, in itself, step up aid received by the schools, Castro said.

Moak said by phone: "This was simply a source-of-funds transfer."

To adjust for the annual cost shift, we subtracted $7.1 billion from the state spending in 2012, suggesting a $0.9 billion difference from the 2002 spending. However, adjusting for inflation makes the 2012 state spending equal $8.2 billion in 2002 dollars--25 percent less than the $10.9 billion spent in 2002, which also would mean that spending trailed enrollment growth.

For this article, finally, we weighed the message that the reduced spending was Perry’s education plan. Perry was governor through all the spending decisions, but the reality is that Republican majorities of the 150-member House and 31-member Senate were needed to pass the decisions into law. Perry was key, but he didn't dictate actions. No governor can.

Our ruling

The pro-bonds’ group said that under Perry’s education plan, Texas has cut funding for public schools by 25 percent.

State education spending in 2012 was 25 percent lower than it was in 2002, adjusting for inflation and the real effects of the 2006 law giving the state more responsibility for education revenues.

Yet Perry didn’t cause the reduction by himself; lawmakers acted, too. This clarification is missing from the group’s statement, which we rate as Mostly True.