Evers
Says Scott Walker ‘cut $800 million from our schools.’

Tony Evers on Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 in a campaign ad

Mostly False

Democrat Tony Evers misfires on education spending claim against Republican Scott Walker

Democratic challenger Tony Evers (left) and Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, shake hands before the start of their gubernatorial debate hosted by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation Oct. 19, 2018, in Madison. (Associated Press)

Schools have been front and center throughout the race for Wisconsin governor, which pits the state schools superintendent against a Republican governor who famously took on teachers’ unions.

In one volley, Democrat Tony Evers zeroed in on school spending under Gov. Scott Walker.

"Do you trust Scott Walker on education?" asks the TV ad, released Sept. 25, 2018. "He’s the politician who cut $800 million from our schools."

That’s very similar to an Evers claim we fact-checked in April -- that Walker "has taken over a billion dollars from the public schools." We rated that Mostly False.

Does the reduced figure change things?

State aid dollars short of $800 million figure

Evers’ team said the number in the ad referred to cuts in 2011-’13, under Walker’s first budget.

Though much of that funding has since been restored, Evers spokesman Sam Lau argued that doesn’t make the claim less true -- and doesn’t lessen the impact of the reduction.

"Each and every year of a student's education matters," Lau said in an email. "Scott Walker's $800 million cuts to Wisconsin's public schools were devastating and continue to be felt today."

The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau provided numbers for our April fact check on this topic, and we’ll rely on those again.

The chart below has a lot to take in, but we’ll focus on a couple numbers we’ve designated with asterisks. This looks at general purpose revenue (GPR) routed to schools, which includes per-pupil aid, equalization aid and other categorical aids.

It starts with the 2010-’11 budget, the last one under Gov. Jim Doyle. That’s the baseline for the comparison.

State fiscal year

GPR school aids

Change to prior year

Change to 2010-’11

Cumulative change to 2010-’11

2010-’11

$5.27 billion

 

 

 

2011-’12

$4.85 billion

-$426.5 million

-$426.5 million

-$426.5 million

2012-’13

$4.91 billion

+$68.9 million

-$357.6 million

-$784.1 million*

2013-’14

$5.03 billion

+$119.8 million

-$237.8 million

-$1.021 billion

2014-’15

$5.19 billion

+$160.5 million

-$77.3 million

-$1.1 billion

2015-’16

$5.2 billion

+$3 million

-$74.3 million

-$1.17 billion

2016-’17

$5.4 billion

+$197.3 million

+$123 million

-$1.05 billion

2017-’18

$5.58 billion

+$176.9 million

+$299.9 million

-$750.6 million

2018-’19

$5.84 billion

+$267.1 million

+$567 million

-$183.6 million*

 

 

The numbers do show a large drop when Walker first took office.

The state had GPR school aid of $5.27 billion the last year under Doyle. The "cuts" Evers alleges come from comparing actual funding in the following two years to what funding would have been if it remained at that $5.27 billion level annually.

The GPR school aids dropped by $426.5 million in 2011-’12 and then rose by $68.9 million in 2012-’13. Taken together, that reduced school aid by $784.1 million in the two-year budget.

That’s in the ballpark of Evers’ claim, but it leaves out a lot of information.

The missing pieces

It’s critical to note the 2011-’12 funding reduction did not happen in isolation.

Act 10, enacted in 2011, required public employees to pay more toward their pensions and decreased their collective bargaining power. That allowed schools to save money that would have gone toward employee pensions and to charge employees more for health insurance.

When all districts were tallied in 2012, they spent $451.5 million less on employee benefits than in 2011, according to a study by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, now the Wisconsin Policy Forum. In 2013, benefits were $433.6 million less than in 2011.

So across the two years where state funding was cut by nearly $800 million, school districts saved nearly $900 million in benefits. And that savings would be higher if you assume costs would have continued to rise from the 2011 levels (likely about 4.3 percent per year, according to the study).

Another important factor: The Evers ad does not say it is referring to a funding change made more than five years ago in a single budget.

Thus, viewers might assume school spending is $800 million less today than when Walker began. In reality, after the initial cuts, Walker has increased GPR school aids every year, hitting a high of $5.84 billion this year.

That’s above the last year of Doyle’s term, though that doesn’t account for inflation.

Those increases mean most of that $784 million in cuts has been returned to the budget. The right-hand column of the chart shows the difference between actual funding and what it would have been cumulatively if the schools budget remained $5.27 billion every year since 2011. That gap was more than $1 billion at one point but now is down to $183.6 million.

Our rating

In the ad, Evers claims Walker cut $800 million from schools. He did cut close to that ($784 million), in raw dollars in a single two-year budget.

But that ignores changes made through Walker’s Act 10 that saved districts money. And the ad does not make clear that it’s referring only to cuts from 2011-’13, so viewers wouldn’t know that subsequent funding increases have made up most of that reduction.

Our definition for Mostly False is "The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

That fits here.

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