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Texas doesn’t have a school funding problem, state Rep. Jason Isaac said in a voters guide to the Nov. 6, 2012, election. "We have a spending problem."
The Dripping Springs Republican, who went on to win his second term, said: "Over the past 20 years, expenditures for education have increased 142% and Texas’ per-pupil costs have increased from $3,659 to $11,024 after adjusting for inflation."
He was responding to this question in the guide produced by the Austin and Texas chapters of the League of Women Voters: "Since 2006, state educational funding has been reduced and student enrollment has increased. What measures would you propose to restore adequate funding to Texas schools?"
Since the 2011 Legislature modified school finance formulas -- sending schools $4 billion less than if the formulas had stayed the same -- PolitiFact Texas has fielded a range of related claims. Recently, lawmakers have said Texas did not cut education spending (Pants on Fire), raised education spending (Pants on Fire) and raised education’s share of the budget (Mostly True).
But none of those claims stretched back to the days of Guns ’N Roses.
We asked Isaac’s campaign for the backup on his statement. Spokeswoman Ellen Troxclair replied with a June 2010 report from the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation citing 1988-2008 total expenditures from the Texas Education Agency.
Some perspective: Texas enrollment has grown substantially in recent decades. Agency data showed an increase of 47 percent in Isaac’s chosen time span, from 3.2 million pupils to 4.7 million.
Looking at the foundation report’s data on expenditures, we first realized that Isaac’s per-pupil statement had not been adjusted for inflation, in contrast to what he said in the guide. He gave a starting point of $3,659, which is the unadjusted amount for 1987-88. In 2008 dollars, it comes out to $6,659, confirmed by the foundation report and our math using the federal Consumer Price Index online calculator.
Working from 2008 dollars at both ends of the 20-year period yields a 66 percent increase, rather than the 201 percent increase Isaac’s numbers indicated. That is, per-pupil spending increased at about one third the rate he suggested.
The first part of Isaac’s claim came straight from the report, Troxclair said. And it checks out, according to our math and the education agency’s data. From 1987-88 through 2007-08, using 2008 dollars to adjust for inflation, Texas’ total expenditures on education rose 142 percent.
Experts suggested other flaws in Isaac’s statement.
First, operating expenditures would be a better measure than total expenditures, we heard in interviews with Texas Association of School Boards spokesman Dominic Giarratani and school funding expert Lori Taylor, an associate professor at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service.
That’s because total expenditures fluctuate due to big-ticket construction projects that school districts mostly pay for on their own by issuing bonds. Operating expenditures more accurately reflect state budget dollars, they said.
We found that over the 20 years singled out by Isaac, inflation-adjusted operating expenditures more than doubled, rising 112 percent, or 42 percent per pupil.
Troxclair acknowledged what she called the "wording error" on the per-pupil inflation adjustment, but disagreed with the idea that Isaac should have relied solely on operating expenditures. "Money spent on construction projects is still money being spent," she said.
Second, Taylor noted that although Isaac said "the past 20 years," his data set ends in 2008, overlooking the three most recent school years including the two affected by the cuts lawmakers approved in 2011.
That’s understandable in the case of the foundation’s report, which was written in 2010. However, Isaac made his statement more than a year after lawmakers completed the 2012-13 budget. Even so, Isaac would not have been able to compare actual spending numbers for 2011-12, because they won’t be published until spring 2013. The 2010-11 data was out, but also would not have included the 2011 legislative cuts.
Troxclair told us Isaac relied on the 2010 report because it was the most comprehensive analysis available from the foundation.
The state’s budgeted amounts, rather than dollars actually spent, came out March 8, 2012, so we ran those over a 20-year period to see how the cuts might change the picture. Budgeted amounts for 1992-2012 showed mostly smaller increases than actual spending in 1988-2008, particularly in operating costs: Total budgeted spending was up 72 percent compared to 1992, or 20 percent per pupil. Operating budgeted spending was up 69 percent, or 17 percent per pupil.
Isaac said, "Over the past 20 years, expenditures for education have increased 142% and Texas’ per-pupil costs have increased from $3,659 to $11,024 after adjusting for inflation."
He’s correct that, adjusted for inflation, total spending went up 142 percent from 1988 through 2008. But that leaves out recent years, including those affected by 2011’s legislative changes. And focusing on the increase alone without taking into account growth factors, especially enrollment, can be misleading.
A different measure, budgeted total spending, rose 72 percent from 1992 through 2012.
Isaac indicated that per-pupil spending had tripled after adjusting for inflation. The correct amounts show it didn’t even double.
So while Isaac’s comment has an element of truth -- spending did increase -- his first declared fact lacks vital context and the second is a substantial overstatement. We rate the overall statement as Mostly False.
League of Women Voters/Austin American-Statesman Voters Guide, Oct. 22, 2012
Email interview with Ellen Troxclair, chief of staff for state Rep. Jason Isaac, Oct. 30-Nov. 6, 2012
Texas Public Policy Foundation report, "Examining Decades of Growth in K-12 Education," July 2010
Email interviews with Kristen Indriago, Texas Public Policy Foundation director of communications, Oct. 30-31, 2012
Email interviews with Bill Peacock, Texas Public Policy Foundation vice president of research, Oct. 30-31, 2012
Email interview with Chuck Devore, Texas Public Policy Foundation vice president for communications and senior fellow for fiscal policy, Oct. 31, 2012
Email interviews with Dominic Giarratani, assistant director at Texas Association of School Boards, Oct. 30-Nov.6, 2012
Email and telephone interviews with Lori Taylor, associate professor at the Texas A&M University George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service, Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2012
Email and telephone interviews with Debbie Ratcliffe, Texas Education Agency communications director, Nov. 2-8, 2012
Email and telephone interviews with DeEtta Culbertson, Texas Education Agency information specialist, Nov. 2-8, 2012
Interviews with Catherine Cansler and Linda Kemp, Texas Education Agency librarians, Nov. 8, 2012
Texas Education Agency actual total expenditures, 1987-88
Texas Education Agency actual operating expenditures, 1987-88
Austin Independent School District report showing Texas Education Agency budgeted expenditures, 1992
Texas Education Agency actual expenditures, total and operating, 2007-08
Texas Education Agency budgeted expenditures, total and operating, 2011-12
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