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Democrats in the state Legislature were unimpressed when Gov. Scott Walker announced that his second budget would modestly boost school aids he cut substantially in his first.
"At this pace, it will take nearly 12 years to return to the funding commitment the state made before Walker’s devastating cuts," state Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains, said in a news release with state Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine. She made the same point in media interviews.
Pope, the ranking Democrat on the Assembly’s Education Committee and a state lawmaker since 2002, put it in terms a parent of a school-age child might appreciate:
"That means a student entering kindergarten will not enjoy the same state investment in his or her education as those that came before them until they are graduating from high school," her release said.
The proposed increase is not enough for schools to make ends meet, Pope told reporters as details were leaked in advance of Walker’s 2013-’15 budget proposal.
We won’t judge the impact of Walker’s moves here, but we were interested in whether Pope correctly described the math when talking about how long it would take to restore the aid cuts Walker made in the 2011-’13 budget cycle.
Let’s take a look.
State aid is the biggest source of funds for public school districts, which also rely on local property taxes.
Pope refers to "equalized" aids, the most common form of general state school aids. They are calculated through a formula designed to minimize the differences among school districts’ abilities to raise revenue. Some districts have more property tax wealth than others, as the Legislative Fiscal Bureau puts it. Hence the term "equalized."
Schools have seen significantly less equalized aid in recent years, even before Walker. His predecessor, Democrat Jim Doyle, cut equalized aid in his final budget, for 2009-’11, setting it back to a level not seen since 2005-’06. So Walker cut from an already diminished base.
Pope’s office showed us their math behind the "nearly 12 years" comment.
It’s based on comparing what Walker’s first budget allocated to the last two-year budget under Jim Doyle.
The difference is $944 million. Now Walker wants to add back about $129 million in equalized aid over two years. At that pace, it would appear it’s going to be at least 12 years to fill the hole.
But that’s not quite how Madison budget math works.
We asked two budget experts to look at this. David Loppnow at the Fiscal Bureau, the Legislature’s nonpartisan scorekeeper, calculated that it would be about nine years at that pace to get back to the pre-Walker aid levels.
Dale Knapp, research director at the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, pegged it at between eight and nine years.
Part of the difference, we found, was that Pope spoke before Walker had released details of how he would structure the $129 million boost. Pope’s office made assumptions on how the money would be divided up between the two years, and was off in its guess.
The timing affects the calculation because the figure in year two of the budget is the base upon which the next year’s increase builds on.
Loppnow said it was understandable, for that reason, that Pope came up with a different number.
But the biggest reason for the numbers gap, we found, was that Pope’s method doesn’t account for Walker having added back some funds in year two of his first budget, somewhat alleviating the big aid cut in his first year.
And that information was available before Walker released details.
Pope said it would take Walker "nearly 12 years" to make up for his previous cuts in general school aids, based on the pace he set in his proposed 2013-’15 budget.
The best number is about eight or nine years, we heard from two experts. That’s when, as Pope put it, a student will "enjoy the same state investment in his or her education" as a student in pre-Walker days.
So it’s more like middle school or freshman year of high school, not graduation.
We rate her claim False.
Rep. Sondy Pope and Sen. John Lehman press release, Feb. 18, 2013
Interview with Dale Knapp, research director, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, Feb. 27, 2013
Interview with David Loppnow, program supervisor, education and building program, Feb. 21, 2013
Interview with Tom McCarthy, aide to Rep. Sondy Pope, Feb. 19, 2013
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel."Union blasts Gov. Walker’s boost in school aid," Feb. 17, 2013
Department of Public Instruction,Governor’s budget recommendations, Feb. 20, 2013
Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "State Aid to School Districts," Informational Paper #24, January 2013
Office of Gov. Scott Walker, press release on education, Feb. 17, 2013
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