Yesterday, legislative leaders claimed that the conference budget would include $251 million in recurring funding for K-12 public education. However, budget watchers of many stripes were perplexed to see a net increase of just $62 million in the public schools budget. Following up on what I wrote yesterday about the state budget not having enough recurring dollars to go around without a tax increase, here’s an educated guess as to how the leaders justified their claim. The key is looking only at the recurring expansion (new spending) items and ignoring the cuts.
Recurring expansion in the K-12 budget include:
- $143.3 million to reduce the LEA Adjustment 
- $27 million for the Excellent Public Schools Act
Those two alone give us a total of $170.3 million. Then, add in the $85 million for LEA salary increases budgeted in the Reserves section near the end of the budget, and you get $255.3 million. This is just a little more than what legislative leaders claimed yesterday, so if there’s an alternate explanation I’m sure that many of us watching the budget would be very, very interested to hear it.
Of course, this calculation ignores any and all reductions to the K-12 budget, which makes this a rather creative way of describing total spending. The net impact to the schools is $62 million as it clearly shows in the summary table, and the LEA Adjustment (which exists, but is not included as a line item) will still exist at $359.8 million going into FY2013-15 – about $70 million less than it was this year ($429 million). It’s also worth noting that $74 million of the increase in this K-12 budget is attributable to backing off a scheduled $74 million increase in the LEA Adjustment – technically new spending, but not the kind that has a net positive economic impact.
The bottom line that budget writers inevitably had to acknowledge was that, without raising revenue, they just didn’t have enough recurring money to restore as much of the public education budget as many people were hoping to see.