News Story

False School 'Cuts' Narrative Takes Another Hit

Citizens Research Council the latest to debunk it

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan has joined the growing number of analysts to explain that state funding for public schools has not been reduced in the past four years, despite persistent and erroneous claims by teachers unions and Democratic politicians. These claims have been a prominent theme in the current race for governor.

On Oct. 16, the non-partisan organization founded in 1916 released a report that asked and answered the key question: “Is school funding up or down compared to four years ago? Here the answer is an unequivocal ‘up.’”

The CRC, which claims to be “the state’s oldest and regarded as the most respected public policy research organization,” added: “While total state funding is up over $1 billion from FY2011 to FY2015, the increase is almost exclusively earmarked to satisfy school employee retirement costs, specifically legacy costs arising from the financial market downturn and state retirement system reforms.”

While there was an initial flurry of media outlets around the state uncritically repeating the budget cut claims, almost all have since reported that school funding has increased under Gov. Rick Snyder. For example, the Detroit Free Press reported in February that state records show Gov. Snyder did not cut funding. On Sept. 3, the Free Press called out a Democratic advertisement for falsely repeating the claim that Gov. Snyder had cut $1 billion from schools.

Sorting out the numbers presents some challenges, but the state provides data for doing so. One avenue for state school funding, the per-pupil foundation allowance, has fallen in some districts. But that’s just one path by which state funding flows to schools. Districts also get state money to cover adult education costs, school lunch programs, special education and classroom teacher retirement benefits.

The CRC press release said that as a result of the claims and counter-claims on education funding, “citizens are left scratching their heads about what to believe.”

Nevertheless, unions and others continue to spread the head-scratching confusion. Four days after the CRC report, an op-ed by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten appeared in the Free Press titled, “Stop hurting Michigan’s children with cuts to schools.”

According to the Senate Fiscal Agency, overall state funding for K-12 education has increased every year under Gov. Snyder.

In June of 2012, two years before Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer would make the erroneous claim of a $1 billion cut to school funding a staple of his campaign, Mackinac Center Fiscal Analyst James Hohman sensed a false narrative being spread. In a quote published by Michigan Capitol Confidential he reported that K-12 school spending had indeed increased in Gov. Snyder’s first two budgets.

More than two years later, only a few are still clinging to the false narrative.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.