In its most recent column, PolitiFact Wisconsin checked the claim by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers that Scott Walker took a billion dollars from public schools. Here’s how they came down on it:
In Walker’s first year as governor, he cut school aid by $426.5 million from the previous year, Doyle’s final year as governor.
Because it took five years to get school funding back to that base level, it can be argued that Walker “took” a total of $1.17 billion from schools over that period.
But since then, Walker has increased school funding to the point that the deficit, in comparison to the base year, is $183.6 million.
For a statement that contains only an element of truth, our rating is Mostly False.
I give that a Completely False. They neglected to adjust for inflation. And by they, I mean Tom Kercher.
It is probably–well, at least possibly–not Kercher’s fault. He relies, as he notes, on numbers provided to him by the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau. He arranges them into a fancy chart. You can click through to see. In the end, he gets his conclusions that school spending both returned to pre-Walker levels and has almost completely erased any billion-dollar cut Walker levied.
While it is true that Walker’s election-year ploy was to boost K-12 spending in the 2017-2018 budget, the rest of the world understands that in fact spending is not back to pre-Walker levels. Here, for example is the Wisconsin State Journal in 2017:
Six years after engineering massive cuts to public schools, Gov. Scott Walker will propose a record level of K-12 education funding in his upcoming budget proposal.
… The amount of state aid is the highest ever in raw dollars, but adjusted for inflation it remains below levels more than a decade ago when the state maintained a commitment to fund two-thirds the cost of public education.
Just to verify, I even went back to the original 2011-2012 budget documents (pdf here) (for that matter, the 13-15 budget’s here) and found that the number listed for the 2010-2011 K-12 budget baseline–$5.27 billion–closely matches the LFB’s contemporaneous summary from that year: $5.33 billion (I think LRB subtracted some aids that aren’t segregated from the totals in that there budget. So, anyway, I ran Kercher’s numbers through the BLS’s inflation calculator and re-create the chart for you. Click to embiggen.
As you can see, adjusted for inflation the 2011-2012 baseline, in 2018 dollars (since the chart ends with 18-19), the K-12 budget was actually $6.08 billion.
This completely changes the calculus. Not only is the 2018-2019 budget of $5.84 billion still smaller than the baseline, but the cumulative impact of eight years’ worth of cuts is not almost gone, down to a couple hundred mill, but actually still growing, hitting a cumulative $4.55 billion missing from K-12 funding under Scott Walker.
Now, I did ask Kercher and the Evers campaign for verification these numbers are not adjusted, and I didn’t feel any attempt at, say, 4:30 on a Friday to get information from DPI or LFB would be kind of pointless. So my pledge: If I am wrong, I’ll take this down and replace it with a mea culpa. But as it stands, the “Mostly False” rating is just plain wrong.
Not only is Tony Evers justified in saying Walker stripped a billion dollars from K-12 without replacing it, he could go further and add that Walker has more than quadrupled the cumulative difference between what Wisconsin schools should have and actually ended up with.