By Neil S. Clark

Political themes and policy statements are important aspects of every administration.  These themes promote opportunities for legislators to introduce bills and support legislation advanced by a Governor.  Furthermore, themes help voters focus on a Governor’s accomplishments and give rise to a political consultant’s direct mail campaigns and television commercials.  During my 32 years in this business, I have seen three messaging areas repeated time and time again:  taxes, jobs and education.

One Governor called himself the “Education Governor”, another said, “do more with less” while another touted “Jobs, jobs, jobs” and even more have claimed “NO NEW TAXES” as their mantra – yet sadly had to go on to eat those words.  Every administration has advanced an education plan, some by design and others by court order.  Some were funded; others were not.  Some boasted in abundance yet delivered very little.  Many administrations seem consumed with finding a cure for the woes of education.  While looking for that “silver bullet”, the economy changes; delivering a knock-out punch and forcing the theme of jobs or taxes to the top of their messaging.

Actually achieving and deserving the title of “education governor” is very difficult and often proves illusive.  History shows that when our economy is strong, abundant resources are poured into education but when the economy lags, so does critical resources.

If an alien, a non-Ohioan that is, dropped out of the sky and landed at the Legislative Budget Office (LBO) and were given the task of measuring the success of previous governors when it came to education spending, how would they even start?  First, they would look at LBO’s 1975-2013 GRF Spending for Education.  Then probably gather information on education measurements and graduation rates from each administration.  Though the financial data is readily available, there is no real consistent measurement for evaluating success in the classroom that covers the 1975-2013 time frame.  It simply does not exist in comparable form.  So since our researcher would conclude that someone smarter and more connected to the mounds of historical data would need to construct a model…they would probably just make due with the comparison of simple numbers – which is what I too shall do.

Over the years, I have rarely heard jubilation about education funding.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been many press conferences, support statements, awards issued and praises sung.  But eventually time takes over and commitments change.  Thos thirteen years from kindergarten to actual high school graduation is a long time – and I have never seen a single education policy last that long.

For this article, I analyze education funding over the last 38 years to attempt to formulate a simple method to determine a governor’s financial commitment to education.  Here are my findings:

GRF K-12 EDUCATION SPENDING TO TOTAL GRF SPENDING

Since 1975, Ohio has spent $192.2 billion on GRF K-12 education from a Total GRF Budget of $500.4 billion. That translates to an average GRF K-12 to Total GRF of 38.42%. That seems simple enough.  So, if a Governor was over that measurement one could conclude that they had a higher commitment to K-12.  By taking each Governor’s first budget, not allowing for the first six months overlap due to calendar to fiscal year crossover, and examining their last budget, I was able to calculate the following percentage. The rankings are;

Strickland    41.2%

Kasich           40.1%

Rhodes         39.7%

Taft                38.6%

Celeste         36.9%

Voinovich    35.5%

This is where I found the impact of the economy on education funding interesting.  When the economy was red hot, or when taxes were raised, the K12 Education to Total GRF Spending DROPPED.

APPROPRIATIONS ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION

When I was in the Senate, I always measured an appropriation request by the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  Each budget line item was compared to that index and my adjustments were made accordingly. If a line item received more, it had to be justified.  I used1975 as the base year I was able to apply an inflation factor to each annual K-12 appropriation for the 38 years.  Then I took the actual appropriation and subtracted the inflation-adjusted appropriation.  The result illustrated a Governor’s ADDITIONAL commitment to K-12.  Here is what that exercise revealed:

Taft                + 3748 or 80.6% over inflation

Kasich           + 3356 or 66.0% over inflation

Voinovich    + 2329 or 62.4% over inflation

Strickland    + 3077 or 61.0% over inflation

Celeste          +   943 or 30.9% over inflation

Rhodes          +   135 or 6.1% over inflation

EXPENDITURES BY COMPOUND GROWTH

From 1975 to 2013, education funding grew at an annual compounded growth of 5.39%.  That also means that by using the Rule of 72, education funding would double in 13.32 years.  An average calculation was obtained by calculating the annual compounded growth during a Governor’s term then adding the sum and dividing by the Governor’s term of office.  Governors Kasich’s numbers should not be used since his term has not been completed.

So who spent the most in terms of compounded growth?

Celeste             6.7

Rhodes           6.3

Voinovich        4.5

Taft                  3.3

Kasich             1.4

Strickland      -1.5

Now the flip side to a Governor’s compounded growth model is sustainability. Even though one may spend a “boat load” on education, can that commitment be an ongoing one?  Since GRF Revenue grew on an annual compounded growth of 5.88% and then doubled in12.24 years, would the state be faced with a tax increase or cuts in their services if the education funding rate exceeded the GRF revenue growth?

So, who put the most demand on future governor’s as measured by the Rule of 72?

The measurement required the last year of the budget and then the annual compounded growth back to 1975. Here are those results:

Celeste‘s budget would double in 9.26 years

Voinovich’s budget would double in 10.37 years

Taft’s budget would double in 11.42 years

Rhodes’ budget would double in 11.57 years

Strickland’s budget would double in 13.23 years

Kasich’s budget would double in 13.35 years

As the General Assembly sets about starting a new discussion on education reform, our history illustrates that consistency is fairly important.  Even an alien can evaluate numbers from the past but it’s the future of which we are concerned.  As this history lesson proved to me, every plan needs balance, sustainability, and consistency and is not served well by the ups and downs of the appropriation process.

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