TRUTH TRACKER: Did Thom Tillis cut education spending when he was NC House Speaker?

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A campaign ad by a Democratic PAC is critical of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) on his record on education spending from when he was the speaker of the state House of Representatives nearly a decade ago.

Tillis is facing Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham in the general election.

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CBS 17 took a closer look at the key claim in the ad as part of our political pledge to test the factual accuracy of public communications offered by candidates, political action committees, or partisan groups.

THE CLAIM: The narrator in the ad says Tillis “cut funding for schools,” mirroring a claim made six years ago when he ran for his first Senate term, but this time without a citing specific dollar amount.

THE FACTS: It’s not quite as black-and-white as it’s implied in the ad from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and it depends on what you consider a cut.

The state’s continuation budget is an estimate of the amount of funding it should take to maintain the status quo, without any additions or subtractions, for a specific year.

That budget in 2013 — which covered two fiscal years, 2013-14 and 2014-15 — estimated that would take a total of $23.6 billion. The budget passed by the General Assembly that year allocated roughly $23.1 billion for all levels of education: public K-12 schools, community colleges and universities.

That gap of approximately $500 million represents the difference between what officials said would be needed to maintain the status quo and what lawmakers actually approved. It would be more accurate to call it an underfunding based on those estimates.

When it comes to the raw dollar amounts, though, state spending on public K-12 schools increased throughout Tillis’ tenure as the House speaker, according to an Associated Press story from 2014. According to historical figures from the state Department of Public Instruction, the state went from spending $7 billion in 2010-11 to $7.8 billion in 2014.

The budget signed in 2014 included what lawmakers described as an average pay raise of 7 percent for teachers at a cost of nearly $300 million. The actual amounts of those raises varied depending on the length of a teacher’s career.

Also that year, the National Association of State Budget Officers said North Carolina dedicated a higher percentage of its budget — 22.4 percent — to public K-12 education, a higher share than neighboring states South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee but lower than Georgia (24.3 percent).

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