Michigan’s been long over-due for an understandable explanation of the actual numbers behind K-12 school funding and higher education spending. We deserve a nuts-n-bolts tutorial on this otherwise complex issue — more than a fuzzy sense of the numbers.
You’ll find it below, with the aid of three simple graphics from the Citizens Research Council, and a few words of explanation by Democracy Tree. Arm yourself with the knowledge of facts and numbers.
Gov. Snyder claims education spending is up, and his Democratic challenger, Mark Schauer, avows just the opposite, leaving much of the state at the mercy of their political allegiances to decide who is right.
The intrepid fact-checkers at Michigan Truth Squad from Bridge Magazine accurately called it — saying both gubernatorial candidates were technically correct due to a “gray area on the subject”. Their brief clarification explained that each camp was merely citing different measures: total K-12 appropriations versus real classroom dollars. For additional details, they provided a link to a more knotty two-page explanation by the former director of the Michigan House Fiscal Agency.
How about a more decipherable explanation?
Enter the policy wonks and budget geeks at the Citizens Research Council — a non-partisan organization that untangles the big mess and lays-out the numbers neatly in an easy to digest format. That’s what they do.
First up, the apparent argument from the Schauer camp:
Below is a bar graph that illustrates the funding numbers Democratic contender Schauer is citing. (As a matter of practicality, the chart uses the most common per pupil funding level in the state — the lowest. Also, note the final two years are based on executive budget proposals.)
The graph takes into account Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System (MPSERS) costs, for both the state and the school district. A 2012 law capped school districts’ allowable MPSERS portion of payroll to 20.96 percent, making the state liable for the growing difference.
The full bar represents total Michigan K-12 per pupil funding — divided by source. Broken down: The ecru-colored portion shows real dollars from the state going directly to the classroom, and the light blue part is the school district’s MPSERS obligation — those two add-up to the state’s per pupil foundation grant allowance to the district from the State School Aid Fund (SAF). The shaded dark blue portion at the top is the growing state portion of legally required MPSERS funds.
But, the important number here is tracked by the red line — this measures the actual classroom funding adjusted to the Consumer Price Index — dollars after inflation.
In the real world, candidate Shauer is correct.
Snyder’s view is probably something more like this:
The governor’s economics employ a broader view of overall spending, including federal dollars, not differentiating between various end-uses of the appropriations — without, for example, breaking-down what money actually flowed into the classroom or was directed towards MPSERS, or other K-12 education policy initiatives.
The graph below demonstrates total K-12 appropriations and divides them on a per pupil basis, even though not all went to students. It includes monies from the SAF, state MPSERS contributions, minor supplements from the state general fund, federal contributions, and in 2009-11, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) funds. Once again, the red line is adjusted for inflation.
As you can see, this graph shows spending is up, even though, as shown in the previous graphic, actual money flowing into classrooms is down, adjusted for inflation.
What about higher education in the state? How’s their funding doing under Snyder?
When the governor took office, one of his first executive moves was to shift money from the SAF to universities, then reduce their funding to help off-set his business tax cuts. (Law prevented him from moving the money directly out of the SAF for that purpose, so he took a more circuitous route through higher ed.)
The chart below shows how university funding was cut by the governor and supplemented with SAF monies (in green). Michigan’s institutions of higher education have taken a double whammy under Snyder budgets. First, in real dollars they are receiving less, and adjusted for inflation (red line) their bottom line is down considerably. (Again, the last two years on the chart are projected based on the governor’s proposed budget. This is an election year so budget proposals are politically skewed.)
While it would be easy to end with the platitude “numbers don’t lie”, that would be a dis-service to the truth. Gov. Snyder, like many current GOP politicians, hails form the corporate realm — a world where window-dressing the quarterlies for short-term advantage is the mainstay of their privileged corner-office lives.
Numbers are his toys, and Michigan’s students are the game pieces.
If you’re a public fiscal policy geek like me, be sure to check-out the full analysis of Gov. Snyder’s 2015 proposed budget at Citizens Research Council. (Or stay-tuned to Democracy Tree for more.)