Rick Scott's Strange Math

Updated to clarify Texas' use of stimulus dollars.

I was surprised when I saw the headline, "Scott, lawmakers agree: Schools need at least $1 billion more." Florida governor Rick Scott kicked off his term last year with proposals to eliminate 7 percent of state government jobs and slash the state budget. He also cut the public-education budget by $1.3 billion. Now, as the Miami Herald reports, the governor is pushing for pumping money back to schools.

Well sort of.

As the article explains, of the billion dollars, $220 million would make up for the losses in propert-tax collection that school districts across the state face; $190 million would fund the 30,500 new students coming into schools; and $224 million would "replace one-time revenue used to plug a hole in this year's budget."  In other words, a majority of that "new" money would simply let districts maintain the status quo. 

Education spending is generally complicated and money comes in from a variety of different streams. That makes it easy for lawmakers to hide what they're doing and leave people confused. Last year, Texas legislators engaged in a similar smoke-and-mirrors act. While the Republican-dominated House and Senate passed a budget that cut per-pupil spending by over $500, many, including the Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, tried to argue they'd increased spending.  They pointed out that the total amount of state dollars for education went up and that they'd funded enrollment growth. They left out some key details however. In 2009, the Legislature opted to use one-time stimulus money to fund ongoing education expenses. When, the next budget cycle (2011) the state had to shoulder education costs without the federal funds, the amount of state revenue going to education necessarily went up, even though the total amount did not. As for enrollment growth, the state is growing so rapidly and public schools are adding more kids every year. To account for the growth, the state simply changed its formulas, so it could pay out a whooping $4 billion less in formula funding for schools, thereby making each child worth fewer dollars. It was an unprecedented action, cutting funding by more than 10 percent. The lawmakers turned around and argued they'd increased funding and covered enrollment growth.

It leaves you to wonder if states should put some money aside to teach lawmakers basic math.