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PoliGraph: Dayton education claim debatable

Inconclusive image.GIFBy Catharine Richert

Mark Dayton's latest TV ad takes aim at Gov. Tim Pawlenty's education funding record.

"Pawlenty cut funding by $1,300 a student," according to the DFL gubernatorial candidate's television spot.

Dayton gets his numbers right, but his claim should come with some caveats.

The Evidence

Minnesota public schools receive funding from a variety of sources, including state and local taxes, fees and federal dollars.

Dayton's claim focuses on state aid, and originated with research done by Jeff Van Wychen, a fellow with the think tank Minnesota 2020.

The numbers are straightforward: Adjusted for inflation, the state gave schools about $8 billion in 2003; in fiscal year 2011, schools will get $6.9 billion. Using attendance figures from the Minnesota Department of Education, inflation adjusted per-student funding has dropped by about $1,300 from $9,700 in 2003 to about $8,400 in 2011.

But experts say it's important to view these figures in context.

Most agree that accounting for inflation is fair when looking at the state's long-term education spending because it helps determine schools' purchasing power. But they pointed out that Dayton does not make it clear that he's talking inflation-adjusted numbers. In fact, the hard numbers show that if you take out inflation, state aid for schools has been on a slight upward trend under Pawlenty's administration.

According to Minnesota Management and Budget, in nominal dollars schools received about $6 billion in state aid in fiscal year 2003. Since then, the number has slowly risen to the current figure of $6.9 billion.

The Verdict

On one hand, Dayton's claim is correct: Factoring in inflation, per-student state aid has dropped by about $1,300. What that figure demonstrates is that schools are getting less for every dollar they spend on students today than they did in 2003.

What Dayton's ad fails to point out is that, in nominal dollars, education funding has increased slightly, though perhaps not dramatically enough to keep up with cost of educating Minnesotans. So, to say that Pawlenty cut funding is misleading. In fact, Pawlenty has frequently protected K-12 education dollars in his budget, as he did in his most recent proposal.

As a result, Dayton's claim is inconclusive.


MarkDayton.org, "Forged" TV ad, accessed July 19, 2010

Minnesota 2020, Minnesota's School Investment Keeps Falling, by Jeff Van Wychen, accessed July 19, 2010

Minnesota 2020, Taking the Spin out of Inflation Estimates, by Jeff Van Wychen, accessed July 19, 2010

Minnesota Management and Budget, May 2010 End of Legislative Session Price of Government, accessed July 19, 2010

Minnesota Public Radio News, Pawlenty uses stimulus money to reverse budget cuts, by Tim Pugmire, March 17, 2009

Minnesota Public Radio News, Pawlenty's budget: K-12 spared, higher ed sees cuts, by Tom Weber, Feb. 15, 2010

Interview, Brian Klass, policy director, Mark Dayton, July 19, 2010

Interview, Jeff Van Wychen, fellow, Minnesota 2020, July 19, 2010

Interview, Aaron Twait, Research Director, Minnesota Taxpayers Association, July 19, 2010

Interview Jim Horney, Director of Federal Fiscal Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 19, 2010

Interview, Tim Strom, Legislative Analyst, Minnesota House of Representatives, July 19, 2010

Interview, Jay Kiedrowski, Senior Fellow, the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, July 19, 2010

Interview, Curt Yoakum, spokesman, Minnesota Management and Budget, July 20, 2010

Interview, Scott Croonquist, Executive Director, Association of Metropolitan School Districts, July 21, 2010

PoliGraph is a regular series of reports that checks the veracity of politicians' claims. It is a collaboration between Minnesota Public Radio News and the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.

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