Wolf mostly false

If lawmakers don’t address the state’s deficit, would 23,000 educators be ‘immediately’ laid off?

We put Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal day claim to the test.

In a partnership with PolitiFact, Billy Penn has created PolitiFact Pennsylvania in which we’ll fact check statements made by politicians from across the state.

Speaker’s name: Gov. Tom Wolf

Statement: If the General Assembly does not address the state’s structural deficit, “more than 23,000 education professionals will be immediately yanked out of Pennsylvania schools.”

Where it was said and date: Pennsylvania budget address, Feb. 9, 2016

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf used his 2016-17 budget proposal address on Feb. 9  to castigate Republican legislative leaders and introduce doomsday scenarios about what he says will happen if lawmakers don’t address a rising structural deficit.

During his address, Wolf chided the legislature as an eight-month long impasse from the 2015-16 budget continues, saying that “if the General Assembly does not approve a responsible plan to solve this crisis,” Pennsylvanians will begin to feel the consequences, teachers will be laid off and “more than 23,000 education professionals will be immediately yanked out of Pennsylvania schools.”

We decided to put that statement to the test. If Pennsylvania doesn’t address its deficit in the 2016-17 budget, would 23,000 education professionals across the state really be “immediately” laid off?

Wolf’s spokesman Jeff Sheridan said that figure is based on a projection by the Department of Education examining what would happen if $1 billion was cut from public education funding in Pennsylvania. The Wolf administration says that total mandated spending for 2016-17 — including to pensions, corrections and human services — is about $32.5 billion.

Without raising personal income or sales taxes, advocated by many Republican legislators, total revenue for 2016-17 is estimated at $30.2 billion, leaving the state with a more-than-$2 billion structural deficit. Sheridan said this deficit would lead to a $1 billion cut to education.

Department of Education spokeswoman Casey Smith said based on that funding cut, about 599 administrators, 8,749 classroom teachers and 12,988 support staff would be laid off. That adds up to 22,336 positions.

These projections were derived from public school staffing changes that took place after federal stimulus dollars under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 were not renewed by Congress. When Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration was crafting its 2011-12 budget, it opted not to replace the stimulus dollars with state funds.

That left school districts dealing with about $1 billion in funding cuts statewide over the course of the next several years. Those districts addressed the cuts through a combination of staff reductions, cost-cutting measures and property tax increases.

James Paul, a policy analyst with the Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank, disagreed with the Wolf administration’s assessment. Paul said the Wolf interpretation assumes the education system would bare the brunt of a projected shortfall if Wolf’s budget proposal isn’t adopted by the legislature.

“That is something that is inherently difficult to predict,” Paul said, “and it’s unwise to make sweeping claims about teacher layoffs. I think any type of projection like that is more of a political comment.”

Mark Price, an analyst with the progressive Harrisburg-based Keystone Research Center, also said it’s difficult to precisely estimate layoffs or other staff losses that would occur after another round of funding cuts to public education.

“It seems highly likely that another round of cuts in state aid would be met with a combination of layoffs, property tax increases and program cuts,” Price said in an email.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number employees in educational services in Pennsylvania did decrease by 23,000 under Corbett, but it wasn’t immediate and not all the job loss could be tied specifically to budget cuts. In January 2011, there were 313,300 employees statewide in educational services. By January 2013, that number dropped to 290,300.

Though those 23,000 staff cuts made through both layoffs and attrition were made over two years, Sheridan said the administration believes future layoffs would happen “immediately” if large budget cuts occurred today “because districts are still suffering from the 2010-11 cuts.”

Our ruling

During his fiery budget proposal address on Feb. 9, Wolf said Pennsylvania’s ongoing budget problem is based on math, saying that if the Republican-controlled legislature doesn’t address the state’s structural deficit, “more than 23,000 education professionals will be immediately yanked out of Pennsylvania schools.”

Experts and analysts from organizations leaning toward both sides of the aisle say it’s difficult to precisely estimate how local school districts would address funding cuts. His administration said that’s based on cuts made after funding was slashed under former Gov. Tom Corbett.

While the amount of educational service jobs in Pennsylvania did decrease by 23,000 positions by January 2013, those cuts took two years to play out and were not immediate, as Wolf’s administration said would happen this time around if the same cuts were to occur.

We rule the claim Mostly False.

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