One More Time: PA GOP Did Not Increase Education Funding

(Cross-posted from Keystone Politics)

One of the most powerful arguments state Democratic challengers have against GOP incumbents this year is that Republicans made unpopular cuts to education spending.

Naturally, Republicans are trying to dodge accountability for education cuts by playing games with the baseline. They’re using this chart to try to argue that Ed Rendell is to blame for cutting the state contribution to education:

They want you to only pay attention to the green bars, and ignore the huge drop in the total funding. But obviously what people actually care about is the total funding, and the total funding is down.

When we look at this is in terms of per-student spending, it is even clearer. Per-student spending is down 1.2% in PA since 2008:

So when Justin Simmons and others say things like this, you should understand that he is trying to confuse you about what is happening:

“We have put more state funding into basic education K-12 than any time in the history of Pennsylvania,” Simmons said Friday.

Republicans cut aid to school districts, forcing cuts and tax increases there, and then they brought the state contribution back to where it was in 2008, for a net cut to education spending per student in PA.


  1. The State GOP increased what it could control – its own spending. Your true villain here is Ed Rendell and State Democrats for what they did to the state’s portion of education spending from 2008-2010. Corbett did a great job of restoring Rendell/Democratic education spending cuts.

    Your other villains are school districts who took spending they knew was temporary and used it for increasing staff – then screamed when the temporary funding was in fact temporary.

    The only one who is trying to confuse voters is you with your simplistic and misleading headlines.

  2. Do you agree that Rendell cut the state’s portion of education spending in 2008 -2010?

    • Jon Geeting says:

      No, I don’t agree. State education spending increased between 2008 and 2010.

      • Nice try Junior but you didn’t answer the question. I’ll take that as admission since there’s no other reason you wouldn’t answer it.

        Now the second question – is it true that Corbett increased the state’s contribution to education spending by 10% in 2011?

        Jon, this is part of maturing – facts are facts. You need to admit them and plot your response appropriately instead of obfuscating, ignoring, and outright lying.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          It’s a stupid question. The state was projected to start funding a greater share of school funding under the “costing out” formula. The state would have been spending at 09 and 10 levels, stimulus or no stimulus. Ed Rendell cut back the state portion because he could, because the federal money was there. Once the federal money went away, it was the Republicans’ job to at least level fund education at 2008 levels. They cut below that. They started counting non-classroom funding for the first time ever. So that’s not even an apples-to-apples comparison. I’m sorry, nobody gets any credit for expanding state contribution by 10% in 2011, that is beyond stupid. The relevant metric is the trend in total funding from 08 to the present.

          • There’s no way the state would have been funding at 2009 and 2010 levels because they didn’t have the money to do it.

            Corbett did in fact bring the state’s portion of spending back to 2008 levels – did you even look at the detail in your chart?

            Your lack of understanding these basic principles gives me great fear for the future.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            Google the costing-out plan. Prior to the financial crisis, Rendell planned to increase the state’s share of education funding. Had there been no financial crisis, the state’s 2009 and 2010 levels would have looked exactly like the totals on the Corbett chart. What happened was that the state got federal money, and used it to hit the totals, while reducing the state portion. After the federal money went away, state funding was supposed to increase to hold the total constant.

            The chart is misleading. He’s counting pension payments and other non-classroom funding for the first time. An honest chart would show 2011 funding as lower than 2008.

          • “Had there been no crisis….”

            Jon, there WAS a crisis. There wasn’t money to cover it. As you know, we haven’t recovered from the crisis. There still isn’t enough money to cover it.

            The fact remains Corbett pumped alot of money back into Education that Rendell had taken away.

            Now if you have a chart that proves your point on state spending from 2008-2011, let’s see it.

  3. Jon,

    I’m probably not “political” enough to get this post, but it really makes very little sense. Perhaps politically “total funding” is what people “really care about, but policy professionals should be looking at the spending/funding matchups and at some sort of benchmark of success.

    1. It is true that the state did cut education in 2008-2010, but in response to deeply falling revenues. Hard to blame Ed Rendell or anyone else.

    2. Accepting as a “baseline” a highly unique spending year or two seems equally wrongheaded. The Republicans do have a fair point here–why would the state establish its funding baseline based on budget lines from expressly time-limited legislation–unless a political party is headed by Mr. Micawber?

    I don’t like to make governments like individuals, but if you bought a house with cash this year and not next year, would you say you cut your household spending by 245%? Of course not.

    We can recall a number of governors that declined stimulus funding and were roundly derided in the press for declining “free money” in a “partisan manner” apparently to make a point. However, it was always glossed over that the stimulus money obligated states and local governments to maintain a set of services or spending long after the money was no longer being provided. Stimulus spending can be a trap, even if a well intentioned one.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      States spent stimulus money exactly as they were supposed to. The real blame for the stimulus money going away lies with Congress. They extended other forms of aid like unemployment benefits when it became clear that the economy would remain weak beyond 2010. They should’ve done the same thing with state and local aid. The aid should have been tied directly to the unemployment rate, only expiring when unemployment fell below 6% or so.

      • Even if I concede your point on the states (which I don’t), I would then counter that the districts screwed up. Everyone, and I repeat EVERYONE, knew the federal money was temporary. If the districts spent it in a way that assumed it was permanent, then that’s their fault.

        And thank God no one listens to you about federal spending. What an assinine plan that is.

  4. I don’t disagree with you, although when it comes to state government spending, it would have been better if states had maintained current budgets and spending rather than expanded hiring.

    The problem is the word “stimulus”. If the Federal Government wanted to give extra money to states to help them through a short term budgetary shortfall, that would be one thing. If the Feds wanted to use stimulus to allow the completion of deferred construction or maintenance, that would also help schools and spur demand.

    Using short term money to expand specialist employment seems to be the worst way to use this money, since the employment impact is minimal and there’s probably less educational justification to use the funding in this way. Tying funding to the unemployment rate doesnt’ appear to be a good match.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      The reason to tie it to unemployment is to avoid expiration of aid while the economy is still weak. Congress should not have to keep voting to extend the aid.

      • Every time I read a stupid-ass recommendation like that I am so glad you’re a 5% far left fringe player, and no one takes this crap seriously.

  5. Why not? Most of the states passed through their short-term fiscal crisises, and their revenues recovered. So the “aid” to help them through the economic crisis seemed to have worked.

    If you wanted a jobs program, do you think you could design something a little bit more sustainable and actually effective at producing jobs than giving free money to state bureaucracies? Doing this kind of thing as a bridge in economic hard times makes sense. Doing it as a jobs program offers few benefits to the employment picture

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Huh? We lost 500K+ public sector jobs in the past 3 years. It didn’t “work”. There should’ve been zero budget-related layoffs.

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