by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, examined the oft-repeated claim that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis cut $500 million from the state education budget.
Here is the overall assessment from FactCheck.org’s Robert Farley:
In the NEA Advocacy Fund ad, the teacher says Tillis, while state House speaker, “cut $500 million from our budget.” That’s not true. We found total state education spending increased by more than $700 million from the 2012-13 school year to the 2014-15 school year, but it hasn’t kept pace with enrollment.
Here is Farley’s take on the issue of the continuation budget:
But even if one considers the difference between the continuation budget and the enacted budget to be a “cut” — even though in raw dollars the budget grew — the $500 million figure used in the ad is outdated and exaggerated. That’s because in 2014, Tillis supported a budget adjustment that added in more education funding in the second year. So the gap between the two-year continuation budget and the actual funding ended up being $368 million.
The ad also leaves the false impression that the $500 million cut is from the K-12 public education budget.
The ad shows [Chapel Hill teacher and activist Vivian] Connell in what is clearly a grade-school classroom and mentions the effect of budget cuts on K-12 public school education, such as cuts to textbook funding and larger classroom sizes. But the $500 billion figure used in the ad includes funding for community colleges and universities.
Farley concludes that “the facts are being twisted.”
Those are all concerns worthy of political debate, but as Connell says in the NEA ad, it’s best to “start with facts.” And in this case, the facts are being twisted. The NEA says it’s spending “north of seven-figures” to air the ad across 95 percent of the state, ending Sept. 12.
As I have argued in the past, the debate about the adequacy of spending increases is legitimate. The debate about the increases themselves is not. The problem is that the Tillis campaign has not done enough to set the record straight. As a result, the aggressive ad buy funded by wealthy Hagan supporters may be enough to convince voters that Tillis really did “cut” $500 million from the K-12 education budget.