Fact Check: Which way on school spending?

Posted June 8, 2012

— When Gov. Bev Perdue asked lawmakers to regulate and "tax the heck out of" sweepstakes machines earlier this week, she said the money was needed to support public education. 

"The fact of the matter is, if you take time to drill down in the budget, there are less dollars in this year's budget proposed by the North Carolina's House of Representatives than in last year's budget that was ratified," she said.

Gov. Beverly Perdue Perdue: 'Tax the heck out of' online sweepstakes parlors

Perdue and Republican lawmakers have been arguing for most of the past 18 months over whether the General Assembly is putting enough money into education, particularly K-12 public schools. Perdue's announcement on sweepstakes brings argument to the foreground again. 

But is she right to claim that his year's House budget proposal offers less for education than the current fiscal year's spending plan? After the House budget was released, many educators expressed relief that it replaced federal EduJobs money, spending that was part of the federal stimulus, which expires at the end of this summer. 

"That is not accurate, no," said Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, the senior budget chairman in the House. He said that the state is actually spending more on education than last year and improved upon budgets written by Democrats in 2010. 

"I can't account for the lack of ability to do math by the folks down the street," Brubaker said of Perdue's assertion.  

Is school spending up? It depends

So who is right? It depends on whether you're just looking at state spending, overall education spending or an even broader education picture. 

A good first source to settle this argument is the 2012 House "money report," a document that outlines both spending for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and the House proposal for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

It shows that the "ratified budget" Perdue was talking about spends $7.444 billion and the House proposal for next fiscal year would spend $7.692 billion. 

That's an increase of $248 million. So as far as actual state spending, Perdue is wrong.

However, last year schools had $258 million in EduJobs money to back-fill state cuts to education. That amount did not come from the state budget, but superintendents spent much of this spring lobbying state lawmakers to replace that soon-to-be-lost federal money, arguing that the need for the federal funds was prompted by state spending that was cut during the height of the recession.  

And, in fact, the increase in state spending proposed by the House correlates roughly to the amount needed to replace the expiring federal money.   

However, Perdue's staff says the budget doesn't get all the way there. 

“After the legislature’s cuts, K-12 schools in North Carolina are receiving $7.72 billion this year," said Perdue spokeswoman Chris Mackey. "$258 million of that is federal EduJobs money that disappears after this year. Under the House budget for next year our schools will receive even less money than this year – $7.69 billion.”

Here's little bit more precise math: $258 million in EduJobs money plus $7.444 billion in state spending is $7.702 billion, which would be $10 million more than the $7.692 billion the state would spend this year.

Either way, the difference ranges from $10 million to $30 million. Viewed that way, yes, the proposed House budget spends less if EduJobs is taken into account, but just barely. In the context of $7.7 billion in education spending, and total state budget worth $20.2 billion across all areas, $30 million realistically amounts to a wash. 

However, Perdue's staff points to something else the governor said Thursday.

Per-pupil spending keeps up, teacher pay does not

“The number of children showing up at the schoolhouse door is increasing. The demands on teachers are growing," Perdue said in her written statement formally announcing the sweepstakes proposal.

The House money report itself projects 11,802 more students will enroll in North Carolina public schools in 2012-13 than in the year just ended. Perdue says this means schools will have to educate more students with the same amount of dollars, something that amounts to a cut. 

Asked about this, Brubaker points to a line item in the House budget for average daily members, or ADM. It is an allotment of money each school system gets based on the number of pupils they have. 

"The ADM is basically level," Brubaker says. Brubaker correctly points out that ADM per pupil is basically the same in the House budget proposal as it is for the current fiscal year. 

So how is it that the state is spending virtually the same on education but keeping up with ADM? Through technical changes in the budget. One of the biggest is an $85.6 million cut due to a dip in average teacher salary.

"That's an unfortunate, but accurate, indication as to what's happening in the schools," said Brian Lewis, a lobbyist with the North Carolina Association of Educators, a group that advocates on behalf of public school teachers. Older teachers, more experienced teachers are retiring or moving to other jobs. If schools are able to replace people in those positions, the teachers they hire are often younger – and paid less – than their longer-serving counterparts.

But ADM is a budget concept most relevant inside the halls of the General Assembly. Perdue is arguing that even if funding is holding steady, the public schools would have to educate significantly more kids with virtually the same amount of money. 

In her budget proposal, Perdue put more money into several education areas by raising the state sales tax by three quarters of a percentage point. Republicans like Brubaker said a tax increase would hurt the overall economy.

"Given the premise we're not going to raise taxes, we had to work with the money we had," he said. Given that, he said, schools fared well. 

Does does Perdue's claim that there are "less dollars" in public education this year than last add up?

  • If you look at just state spending: NO.
  • If you look at state spending plus federal EduJobs money: YES, but barely. The difference is small and really amounts to a wash.
  • If you look at the total amount of money in the system versus the total number of students served: YES, although both Republican budget writers and Perdue can point to numbers that support their claims on per pupil spending.   

One final note: the Senate is due to release its version of the budget Sunday night and could send it to Gov. Perdue by the end of the week. 


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  • kermit60 Jun 11, 2012

    Some of the tests may be needed and could fullfill a legitamate purpose if allowed. The problem with the tests is twofold.
    1. They seem to be used for everyhing other than what they were designed for.
    2. Even when a student fails the so called EOG test, they will be most likely pushed to the next grade anyway.

    So, why bother with all the tests.

  • bbobbitt Jun 11, 2012

    I want to know, what happened to all the money the state is supposed to get from the lottery? The sales job given by all supporters a few years ago, was that once it was enacted, it was supposed to solve all our money problems, right? Did the state cut back on it's funding of the school system as the lottery money was coming in? That's my guess because the lottery money together with state funding should be more than enough to have quality school systems statewide. We had this same problem before we had the lottery, and we're still having it. Somthing must have cut state funds.

  • WooHoo2You Jun 8, 2012

    She Has no Business being Governor,It isn't the Money Bev It's Teachers I saw a sign yesterday , 44% of the Grads in Durham can't READ.- bmac813

    I read a sign that stated "the end is near, repent." Does that mean the end is really near??? I hope you just don't blindly believe everything you read...

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Jun 8, 2012

    There is not education in NC other than for Politicians to brag about progress measured by BUBBLE TESTS!!
    They do not have a clue..
    I am now paying dearly as I removed my children from these outrageous school systems that have Testers instead of Teachers.

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Jun 8, 2012

    Bev is spending on TESTS and more TESTS and more TESTS.
    Testing in NC is totally out of control!!!
    I have been asking and asking how many of my tax-payer dollars go for these.

  • bmac813 Jun 8, 2012

    She Has no Business being Governor,It isn't the Money Bev It's Teachers
    I saw a sign yesterday , 44% of the Grads in Durham can't READ.
    MONEY, No, we need kids who want to leard, Parents who care and Teachers who can Teach. It not the Money, we put more money into Education than the REST of the WORLD but we are almost Dead Last, Even Viet Nam and India are ahead of us.

  • couldbeanyone Jun 8, 2012

    where are the lottery dollars???

  • Plenty Coups Jun 8, 2012

    "Over half the budget is way to much in my opinion."

    Like I already posted, it is currently at 37 % of the budget. We fund our k-12 education less than just about every other state. How can you seriously claim this is too much? A lack of an educated workforce creates a Mississippi and West Virginia type state. Last in about every measurement incluuding lifespan. If you include the universities, yes it goes over 50 % but again, its been declining for decades.

    "Your inmate population is much higher,"

    Guess what's going to happen to that inmate population after we keep cutting education?

  • NCHighlander Jun 8, 2012

    rabbitdog- "Over half of the entire state budget goes to education now. Believe it or not their are other needed agencies that also need money to operate."

    Education spending as a percentage of the total budget has been declining fairly steadily for decades. In 1969-70, the state spent 52.5 percent of its budget on K-12 schools. Now we spend 37 %.

    Last years budget was 22+ Billion dollars and we spent something like 12.5 of that on education. We have a Dept of Corrections, Dept. of transportation, state run hospital and so much more than just schools. It cost much more to run all of those things today than years ago. Your inmate population is much higher, asphalt and building products for roads cost more today. Over half the budget is way to much in my opinion. Parents of children need to pay more in my opinion. If you can't afford them, don't have them.

  • westernwake1 Jun 8, 2012

    So the bottom line is Bev Purdue can't do math.