Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Gov. Kasich Misleads on School Funding

I really hate writing these kinds of posts -- the kind that de-bunks specious claims made by politicians. I don't want this space to become like too many other blogs and get into political back and forths.

But I couldn't let this whopper from Gov. John Kasich go.

His November opponent, Ed Fitzgerald, held an education-related event Friday. In it, he claimed that Gov. Kasich cut $2 billion from education in his first budget and replaced $1.5 billion of that in his second budget. The cut was actually $1.8 billion in the first budget, and the second budget replaced $1.3 billion of that. While in Fitzgerald's case, I can chalk up the difference to rounding, there is a much more nefarious explanation for Gov. Kasich's response.

A Kasich spokesman claimed that "Under Gov. Kasich, education funding has increased by 1.3 billion dollars and that's an increase in funding that the Democrats opposed."

This is so blatantly misleading I had to comment on it. The only way Gov. Kasich can make this claim is if he ignores about $1.8 billion in cuts to other revenue streams districts received from the state prior to his taking office -- cuts that perhaps help explain why Democrats voted against his budgets.

One of the first things Kasich did upon taking office was all but eliminate state reimbursement payments to school districts for Tangible Personal Property and Kilowatt Hour taxes -- taxes that were eliminated in 2005. However, many school districts relied on these revenue streams to fund their programs for children. So state leaders told school districts that the state’s new Commercial Activity Tax would replace those taxes until a new, permanent source of funding could be found. The state lived up to that promise ... until Kasich all but eliminated those payments in 2011. That means that the reimbursements for those taxes went from $1.9 billion over the FY2010-FY2011 biennium to $819 million over the FY2012-FY2013 and all future biennia – a cut of more than $1 billion.

Kasich’s $1.3 billion figure does not include the loss of more than $850 million districts received over the 2010-2011 biennium through the federal government's State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. The SFSF money was meant to prevent massive educator layoffs during the Great
Recession. It was not meant to serve as an excuse to eliminate $850 million from Ohio's children, but that’s exactly what Kasich and his legislative allies have done. They claim that this was one-time federal money that they have no duty to replace. I heard this mantra constantly when I was a state legislator. Yet the money, by federal law, had to be run through each state’s school funding formula. That's because it was meant to make up the difference between what states had been spending on education and what their depleted state revenues would allow them to spend during the Recession. When Kasich and his allies refused to replace the money, they were essentially saying that they didn't think Ohio’s children should have their pre-Recession resources.

So, when you add the $1.8 billion (rounded) in cuts to revenue streams to the $1.3 billion "increase" Kasich claims, you see that the bottom line is that kids in traditional school districts are receiving $515 million fewer over Kasich's current budget than they received in the budget I moved through the Ohio House. Here's the district-by-district spreadsheet to show the calculation. Children in about 3 in 4 school districts have less money coming from the state today than they did prior to Kasich taking office.

Kasich's claim also fails the smell test from these two angles: The state share of education funding has dropped precipitously since Mr. Kasich took office, and local property tax levies are way up. 

The chart below (from Ohio Department of Education data) demonstrates just how much the disparity between state and local revenue streams has grown under Kasich. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the last year of the budget I moved through the Ohio House (the budget prior to Kasich's arrival) was the first time on record that state money being spent on education eclipsed local taxpayer money.

So if Kasich has indeed "increased" state education funding, why has the state share dropped so deep?

One more piece of evidence: Why are levies for new operating money up so dramatically under Kasich? Again, this is just for new operating money, not capital money for buildings. 

Kasich supporters frequently mislead on this stat too by lumping operating and capital money together. Capital levy frequency was much greater under Gov. Ted Strickland because the state securitized more than $5 billion in tobacco money to put into the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which made funding through the OSFC much cheaper -- leading to more districts seeking a share of that revenue. So the reason there were more capital issues on the ballot under Strickland is because he put $5 billion more into capital funds for school buildings, not because he cut money for capital projects.

I don't begrudge politicians playing fast and loose with facts, arguing semantics, or parsing words to serve their own ends. But when they tell you up is down or down is up (rather than down is a little less down than the opponent claims, or up is much more so), then they've crossed a line in my book.

Kasich has increased state aid by $1.3 billion, that's true. But that increase has been more than offset by his drastic cuts in other areas of the state budget that children in public school districts had been using to better their futures. At the end of the day, children and parents know what Kasich is saying isn't true. 

They're the ones seeing larger classes, fewer extracurriculars, more fees and fewer additional learning opportunities.

They're the ones who have to keep approving levies to pay for the things the state used to fund. 

They're the ones who understand that when politicians turn school funding into a football, parents and kids will have to pay for the right to play the game.

And God help them if they don't, because there's no indication the state government -- whose constitutional duty it is to fund Ohio's education -- will.