By Amanda Litvinov
8/1/2014–Thanks, readers! Your comments inspired us to update our earlier story to include Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Keep reading and letting us know what you think–we’re listening!
A crop of governors elected in 2010 who all face tough re-election battles this November are attempting to doctor their records on an issue that matters to voters of every political persuasion: education funding. Their tactics range from rewriting history (“I did increase education spending—no really, I did!”) to proposing new funding with major strings attached.
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Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas
During his state of the state address in January, Gov. Brownback said, “we should listen to those who are closest to Kansas students–their teachers.” If only he had taken his own advice.
Instead, he ignored the pleas of Kansas educators and parents calling for a clean education funding bill, and instead signed into law what his allies in the legislature devised in the dark of night—a policy-laden attack on teachers, schools and students.
The bill cut services for at-risk students and created another $10 million corporate tax giveaway. It took away due process rights that prevent arbitrary termination of educators and removed licensure requirements for certain teaching positions.
Incredibly, Kansans were subjected to a television ad that hit the airwaves in April asking them to thank Gov. Brownback for signing the bill, which restored only a fraction of the cuts he has signed off on since taking office in 2011.
Those cuts have reduced the state’s education spending 16 percent below 2008 levels.
The ad repeated Brownback’s own claim that the bill directed $73 million more to classrooms when the true number is scarcely half that amount. Because of several factors in the state’s school funding formula, it actually represents a loss for most districts and a gain for only about a dozen districts.
Brownback’s education cuts are one of the top issues hurting his campaign. Among voters who list education as their top issue, Brownback trails opponent Paul Davis 73 percent to 19 percent, according to a SurveyUSA poll. That same poll shows that in one of the most conservative states in the nation, one in four registered Republicans are supporting Davis.
In July, more than 100 Kansas Republicans, many of them current officeholders, publicly endorsed Paul Davis.
Gov. Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania educators, students and families have been reeling since 2011 when education funding plummeted by $1.1 billion under Gov. Corbett. College students were burdened with even greater costs, while public schools were forced to operate with $860 million less.
It gets even yuckier: Those K-12 cuts were deepest in Pennsylvania’s 50 poorest districts, where the average funding cut was four times greater ($532 per student) than in the state’s wealthiest districts ($113 per student).
In January, Gov. Corbett introduced a plan to increase education spending that was more about helping his unpopular image than helping Pennsylvania students, according to W. Gerard Oleksiak, special education teacher and Pennsylvania State Education Association vice president.
“Instead of making Pennsylvania’s students and their hardworking families a real priority, this budget is full of election year gimmicks and illusions,” said Oleksiak in a press release.
The governor preposed $241 million in a new block grant program for use on a short list of state-prescribed initiatives, while proposing no increase in the basic education subsidy, the primary mechanism through which public schools receive state funding.
State legislators managed to instead pass a modest increase in base funding, but there is much more to be done to restore more than 20,000 education jobs lost under Corbett, which increased class sizes in 64 percent of Pennsylvania districts.
A recent poll shows Corbett trailing his competitor, Tom Wolf, by 22 points. Of voters who gave the governor a poor or fair job rating, the reason given by the greatest percentage of them (27 percent) was education cuts and teacher evaluations.
“Gov. Corbett could have reversed these cuts and put our schools back on track, but instead he chose to play politics with the budget,” said special education teacher and PSEA President Mike Crossey. “As a result, students and taxpayers will continue to pay a steep price.”
Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan
Public school advocates were dismayed to hear Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s boast that his current plan will help public schools.
Let’s review the facts: During his tenure, Snyder has cut $1 billion from education while installing tax cuts worth $1.8 billion for big corporations that don’t need them.
The 2015 budget Snyder signed this session includes a modest per pupil increase, but it scarcely represents a quarter of what he cut from education spending his first year in office.
“Putting a fraction of that $1 billion back into schools doesn’t fix the problems that such a massive cut caused last year,” said Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook, who served as a paraprofessional for 15 years in Lansing Public Schools.
“It only continues to enrich the corporate special interests who benefited from the $1.8 billion tax cut that the education cuts enabled,” said Cook.
“A long record of deep cuts to public schools will not be erased with a minuscule election-year funding increase.”
Voters who helped Snyder cruise to victory in 2010 are clearly questioning how they will vote in November. Polls show Snyder neck-and-neck with opponent Mark Schauer, who has made education spending central to his platform, and NBC called the Michigan governor’s race one to watch.
Gov. Rick Scott, Florida
It’s been a long and frustrating fight for education funding for educators and parents while Gov. Scott has been in office. Florida currently ranks 50th out of 50 states in per capita funding for K-12 public education, according to the most recent census data.
Scott declared that this year’s budget includes record levels of education funding—but the truth is that his proposal left the state’s per pupil spending lower than in the 2007-08 school year, while district needs have only risen.
It will take a much greater commitment to reverse the damage done by the massive cuts he made upon taking office in 2011.
“The FEA believes the existing statutory policy mandates that involve Florida’s accountability system, its standards, its state and local assessments, implementation schedules, performance pay, material needs, technology and technology infrastructure will absorb this increase and much more,” said Florida Education Association President Andy Ford.
Ford noted that this increase would put the state’s per-pupil spending near the level it was at when Scott took office and still below the levels in the 2007-08 school year, before many of these state-ordered mandates were in place.
Meanwhile, the state’s students have greater needs today after the Great Recession of 2008-09, with more families living in poverty and becoming homeless.
Scott delivered a second punch to the gut when he signed a bill to expand the state’s controversial voucher program, which is already costs taxpayers nearly $300 million in lost revenue funneled to private schools that are unaccountable to parents, taxpayers, school boards or any oversight body.
One Quinnipiac poll asked likely voters which candidate would do a better job handing public schools. Nearly 50 percent named Scott’s opponent in the upcoming election, Charlie Crist, while only 35 percent stuck by Scott.