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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske August 2, 2021

McAuliffe claim about record education spending is flawed

If Your Time is short

  • McAuliffe signed budgets in 2016 and 2017 that, in raw dollars, that set records for K-12 spending. 
     
  • But when adjusted for inflation, McAuliffe's spending did not rise to the education budgets signed in the three last years before the Great Recession

Once and possibly future Gov. Terry McAuliffe is urging voters to look at his record for funding schools.

In a recent TV ad, the Democrat says he worked with "reasonable Republicans to get things done" when he led Virgina from 2014 to 2018. Among those accomplishments, McAuliffe notes that school funding increased by $1 billion funding during his term. White letters appear on the screen saying, "Under Terry McAuliffe record investment in education."

McAuliffe has been saying he set the record for K-12 funding since midway through his governorship and we’ve previously rated his claim Mostly False. Here’s why.

Raw dollars

McAuliffe’s claim is based on raw dollars — money that has not been adjusted for inflation.

When he took office, the raw dollar record for state aid to education was $6.4 billion, set nearly six years earlier during the 2008-09 school year in the last budget before the Great Recession. Democrat Tim Kaine was governor.

Virginia finally broke that record in 2016, when McAuliffe signed a budget with $6.5 billion in general funds for K-12 during the school year that began late that summer. In 2017, McAuliffe inked his final budget, authorizing $6.8 billion for K-12 — a high mark, again.

In raw dollars, McAuliffe also signed budgets that broke the state record of funding $5,248 per student — also set during the 2008-09 school year. His final budget, in 2017-18, allocated $5,444 per pupil.

McAuliffe’s campaign cites these figures, which PolitiFact has noted in the past, as proof of his claim that he made a "record investment" in education. 

"Every time this fact has been looked into, it has been clear that as Virginia’s 72nd Governor Terry McAuliffe invested more dollars into education than any other governor before him, which is the definition of a record investment," Renzo Oliveri, McAuliffe’s campaign spokesperson, wote in an email.

But Oliveri omits an important factor we’ve noted in past fact checks on whether K-12 funding truly reached new heights during McAuliffe’s term.

What about inflation?

There’s a problem with comparing historic spending levels in terms of the raw money that was appropriated each year: A dollar spent today or in the future doesn’t buy as much as a buck spent in the past. So we’ve taken more meaningful looks at whether McAuliffe brought school spending to new heights by adjusting for inflation.

Under this measurement, as we’ve noted before, McAuliffe is not the record holder.

We adjusted each of the education budgets this century to 2018 dollars, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator. The high-water mark came in the 2008-09 school year, when the state spent an adjusted $7.5 billion on public education.

That figure exceeds the peak $6.8 billion expenditure — in raw dollars — in McAuliffe’s 2017-18 budget. In adjusted dollars, McAuliffe’s peak education budget in 2017-18 falls below the three state budgets that were in effect from July 2006 through June 2009.

We applied the same inflation adjustments to per-pupil spending, which is the gold standard in evaluating education budgets because it takes enrollment into account. 

The glory days for state spending per student once again occurred during the budgets from July 2006 to June 2009. Virginia, in adjusted 2018 dollars, spent $5,675 to $5,966 per pupil during those school years. McAuliffe’s peak proposal of $5,444 per student during the 2017-18 school year didn’t rise to that level.

It’s taken a long time for Virginia to recover all the ground lost to the Great Recession. The inflation-adjusted education budget for the 2021-22 school year will be the first to pass the high-water mark set 12 years ago.   

Our ruling

McAuliffe’s ad says that under the former governor there was "a record investment in education."

In raw dollars, McAuliffe did sign budgets during his last two years that set state records for overall education spending and per-student outlays. But for historical spending comparisons to have meaning, inflation must be considered. When it is, McAuliffe’s claim comes up short.

We rate McAuliffe’s statement Mostly False.

 

Our Sources

Terry McAuliffe, TV ad, July 23, 2021.

PolitiFact Virginia, "McAuliffe claim of record K-12 spending is misleading," March 26, 2019.

PolitiFact Virginia, "McAuliffe's claim of record school budget is dubious," Jan. 11, 2016.

Virginia Department of Education, Superintendent’s Annual Report, Table 15, 2001-2002 school year through 2019-2020.

Virginia House Appropriations Committee, Budget summaries, 2003-2021.

Email from Renzo Oliveri, McAuliffe campaign spokesman, July 28, 2021.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, CPI Inflation Calculator, accessed July 30, 2021.

 

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