Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said that the Republican vice presidential nominee, Gov. Mike Pence, “slashed education funding in Indiana.” But Pence claimed he made “record investments in education.” Clinton is wrong, and Pence is misleading.
The education budget under Pence would be a “record” in nominal dollars, but in inflation-adjusted dollars, it’s not. However, the numbers don’t show education funding has been “slashed” either: The budgets he has signed increased education funding, even in inflation-adjusted dollars.
‘Record’ Investments in Education?
Clinton made the claim on July 23 in introducing her vice presidential running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who, contrary to the impression Clinton left, presided over a decline in education spending, in inflation-adjusted dollars, as governor of Virginia during the Great Recession.
Clinton: While Mike Pence slashed education funding in Indiana and gave more tax cuts to the wealthiest, Tim Kaine cut his own salary and invested in education from pre-k through college and beyond.
Pence made the opposite boast a few days earlier, on July 20, in his speech at the Republican convention.
Pence: In my home state of Indiana we prove every day that you can build a growing economy on balanced budgets, low taxes, even while making record investments in education and roads and health care.
Larry DeBoer, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, studies government budget issues and has written about state school funding. He shared a spreadsheet with us on Indiana education funding, which shows that the figure, for K-12 and higher education combined, was $9.3 billion in fiscal year 2011, the highest figure before Pence took office. Both the 2016 and 2017 budgets, as passed, are higher than that, at $9.8 billion and $10 billion, respectively.
But an increase in nominal dollars, year after year, isn’t unusual. As DeBoer said in an email to us, “Gov. Pence has made record investments in education in the sense that his budgets spend more on education than any in Indiana history. But given inflation, population growth and income growth, that would be true for almost anyone’s budgets.”
In fact, looking at funding figures dating back to 2000, the raw dollar amount for education went up every year except for two of them — both before Pence took office.
So, using nominal dollars isn’t the best way to measure whether a governor had a “record” in funding. Using inflation-adjusted dollars, DeBoer’s figures show the peak in education funding was in 2010, and the current fiscal year, 2017, which began July 1, stands 1.3 percent below that.
DeBoer noted that the difference isn’t large. “In real terms, and as a share of Indiana’s economy, education spending is a bit smaller than it was in 2010 and 2011,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think that counts as ‘slashed’ though.”
Education Funds Not ‘Slashed’
To look at whether Pence had “slashed education funding,” as Clinton claimed, we’d look at the first budget for which he was responsible. Pence took office in January 2013 and signed the 2014-2015 biennial budget in May of that year. Education funding for 2014 was higher, both in nominal and inflation-adjusted dollars, than it had been in 2013.
And the education funding numbers have gone up, in inflation-adjusted dollars, every year for 2015 through 2017. All told, education funding has increased 5.6 percent under Pence, in inflation-adjusted dollars.
We could also look at overall per-pupil spending for elementary and secondary schools, and that figure dipped slightly in Pence’s first budget, going from $9,566 in fiscal 2013 to $9,548 in 2014, the most recent numbers available from the Census Bureau. Those numbers aren’t adjusted for inflation.
How does the Clinton campaign figure he “slashed” funding? It points to specific cuts to certain aspects of education funding.
The Clinton camp sent us news articles about the way K-12 education funding is distributed in Indiana under Pence’s latest 2016-2017 budget. Some schools, in suburban areas, got increases in funding, while urban schools saw reductions, a change based on the growth or reduction in enrollment levels, and a change Republican lawmakers advocated to narrow a gap in per-student funding.
An April 30, 2015 Indianapolis Star article reported on a “modest” increase in K-12 education funding overall in the budget — it’s a 2.3 percent annual increase each year — but also noted that urban school funding was “slashed.”
Indianapolis Star, April 30, 2015: Fast-growing suburban schools would see increases in funding while poorer, urban districts would see their budgets slashed by millions of dollars.
The funding amounts to a reduction of a couple hundred dollars per student in urban districts, another Star article explained, but all told that adds up to millions of dollars, a $17 million reduction for Indianapolis Public Schools, for instance. Suburban districts saw increases in per-student amounts.
Chalkbeat Indiana, a nonprofit covering public education in the state, calculated that all of the 25 highest-family-income school districts would get more state money per-student under the budget, while 12 of the 25 lowest-family-income schools would get a boost in funding.
But Clinton didn’t say she was criticizing cuts to some schools in Indiana — instead she said that Pence had “slashed education funding.” And overall, that funding has gone up under Pence.
The Clinton campaign also notes that Pence cut $27 million from higher education in fiscal 2014 to help close a budget shortfall. Lower-than-expected tax revenues led Pence to sell the state executive plane, ask state agencies to cut 1.5 percent and state universities to cut 2 percent of their operational budgets, as the Indianapolis Star reported. (Clarification, July 26: Earlier in the year, the state had asked agencies to hold back 3 percent, so it was a total cut of 4.5 percent for state agencies.)
But that amount of a cut wouldn’t put the total education funding budget, or even the higher education budget alone, below the previous year’s, even in inflation-adjusted dollars.
State budget director Brian Bailey told the Star that the higher education budget had been 5.4 percent above the previous year’s, so a 2 percent cut would still amount to an increase for the year overall. That 5.4 percent figure matches the inflation-adjusted figures we had from DeBoer.
And finally, the campaign provided news stories on Pence deciding not to apply for an $80 million federal grant for preschool funding, citing concern about “strings” attached to federal money. But that’s not a slashing of state funding; it’s not applying for additional federal money.
The Clinton campaign is free to take issue with that decision, as well as how Indiana is now distributing K-12 education money, but the numbers on the state education budget show that Pence hasn’t “slashed” that funding. In fact, he has increased it. The numbers also show he has not set a “record” for education funding when adjusted for inflation, the best way to compare such figures. Both sides are distorting the facts.
As for Clinton’s claims about her running mate, Kaine did cut his salary, by 5 percent when facing a budget gap in 2007 and 2008, a measure that has been employed by other governors as well. And he expanded the state’s preschool program, and signed a bond bill in 2008 to fund construction projects at state higher education institutions.
But overall state education funding under Kaine went down, in inflation-adjusted dollars, by 4.3 percent from 2006, the fiscal year that began before he took office, to 2010, the last budget he signed. Those numbers come from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a left-leaning think tank. (That does not include proposed education cuts in Kaine’s last budget, which was amended and signed by his successor, Bob McDonnell, as we have written before.)
Kaine’s gubernatorial tenure came during the 2007-2009 Great Recession, while Pence’s has been during a time of economic recovery – making a comparison of their education-spending records difficult to say the least. But Clinton herself draws such a comparison in her remarks.