Ladner, Horne duke it out

by David Safier
Friend of the blog Matthew Ladner has told us here at BfA that we should stop resisting and give in to the clear and obvious truth that Arizona spends $9,500 per student. It's simple. Just take every dollar spent in the name of K-12 education, divide it by the number of students, and up pops the magic number.

Lots of foolish progressives and liberals (I'll let you decide if there's a difference) have begged to differ in comments on the blog. But you know what fools these pro/libs be.

Now, we have an unexpected ally: Tom Horne. I've written earlier that he acknowledges Arizona is 49th in per pupil spending, but now he's gone further.

The Republic published a Q&A about Arizona's educational funding. Here's the Ladner-Horne disagreement:

The libertarian-leaning Goldwater Institute includes capital expenses such as the cost of building new schools. With that approach, Arizona spends $8,528 per student. Calculating expenditures should include all sources of revenue, said Matthew Ladner, the institute's vice president of research.

Horne disagreed, saying that per pupil expenditures should calculate only money spent teachers and programs in the classroom.

"Construction cost is a result of the fact that we're a growing state," Horne said. "And that's a product of growth. It's not an effort that we're making in education."

Horne notes "that we're a growing state." It's true. We're second only to Nevada in our population growth in recent years. So when we gain students, we need to build schools to house them, which is separate from the real cost of educating those students. In states where the population is stable or shrinking, they don't have those added costs. So, Horne is saying, when we compare what it costs to educate students, we should figure the cost of salaries, materials, etc., the things that have a direct impact on the what it costs to educate students, not to house them.

Ladner has said before that G.I. and Horne don't always see eye to eye, but this is a real poke in the eye from the Ed Supe. And, every Democratic legislator and candidate should note, it's a poke in the eye of Republicans who trumpet the G.I. figure. In every forum that someone like Cap'n Al Melvin uses the $9,500 figure, as he did Friday, he should be told, "I see you disagree with Tom Horne, Republican State Superintendent of Education, who says you shouldn't include construction costs in the per student spending figure and accept the truth that we're 49th in the nation in per pupil spending."

NOTE: The Republic uses $8,528 as the G.I. figure instead of $9,500. That must have chapped a few Institute hides.

0 responses to “Ladner, Horne duke it out

  1. Matthew Ladner

    Yes- we will release it next Tuesday.

  2. Matthew-

    You were true to your word. You didn’t try to do any ranking comparisons.

    I’m glad to see you didn’t try to use the “dollars per classroom” stuff we’ve started hearing.

    Overall I was impressed. You got bogged down in the “capital expenditures” issue again.

    A word of advice to maybe help you in your argument:
    If the budget were relatively stable, then once our population boom stabilizes and the schools are built then that budget money (theoretically) would be available again for regular “expenses”. You can argue that most other states don’t have to siphon as much from their education funding to supply a capital budget because they haven’t had to build as many schools in the past 2 decades as we have. Cash flow is cash flow and construction costs still come out of the same pot as the expenses do.
    That might help get your point across as long as that’s really how the education budget is funded.

    Any word on the article you had hinted at a few weeks ago, the one with the Korea comparison?

  3. David Safier


    Yes you did. It was deja vu all over again. And as it turned out here on BfA, I call it a draw. No blood drawn on either side. Anyone listening would probably end up with the same opinions they had when they started.

  4. Matthew Ladner


    Chuck Essigs and I just about covered the same ground you and I did on Horizon last night:

  5. Matthew-

    Considering new building construction to be a part of yearly expenses is not GAAP. It’s considered a capital purchase, not an operating cost. Businesses that classify spending that way fail audits.

    Sorry to get technical, but I can’t help it. I’m an accountant. It’s what we do.

  6. Matthew Ladner


    That’s true, but the question is whether or not school buildings are a part of K-12 education or not. If not, the state can stop providing $450m per year for new school facilities. If so, it needs to count as a part of state spending for education.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  7. Matthew-

    “I’m curious- what is purpose the purpose of building school buildings, if not education? Housing students is not a part of educating them?”

    I don’t really think building a school building equals education. I just think it means the classes won’t be taught on a patch of dirt in a vacant lot.

    The buildings themselves don’t do much of the actual “teaching”, that’s why we put teachers in them.

  8. Matthew Ladner


    I have provided you with JLBC and Financial report documents. You aren’t having trouble understanding the fine points, but rather are displaying exactly the sort of willful ideological ignorance that Daniel Patrick Moynihan denounced.

  9. David Safier

    Please send all this information to Tom Horne and the folks at ATRA. They seem to be having trouble understanding the fine points of your argument, as do I.

  10. Matthew Ladner


    If you examine the figures in most recent Digest of Education statistics, you actually find that Arizona’s capital and debt costs are below the national average.

    Notice how much higher Nevada’s numbers are in those categories, which is interesting given that our two states tend to trade off the number one and number two spots for growth. It might have something to do with our almost 500 charter schools to their 20 some-odd.

    Now of course these numbers could be inaccurate, but if not, then the idea that Arizona schools are being crushed with facility costs appears to be overstated.

  11. Matthew Ladner


    These aren’t “my numbers” but rather are JLBC numbers, and the numbers in Horne’s own financial report, which match up very closely.

  12. David Safier


    I’m not arguing about your figures. As I said elsewhere, we’ve used enough words to state our positions, which will remain forever at odds on how to determine the cost per student figure.

    I’m just saying, if you’re going to try to convince liberals like me we should accept your numbers, you should probably get people who are closer to your overall position to accept the numbers first, and Tom Horne is certainly closer to you on education than I am, though I know you have lots of differences. And he directly challenges the way you arrive at your $9,500 figure, using the same reasoning you’ve seen on this blog.

    You might also talk to the folks at the Arizona Tax Research Association about the cost per student figure they use. In an April, 2009 Special Report, “K-12 Education Funding: How Do We Compare?” they use $6,248 as the Expenditures per Pupil in Arizona.

  13. Matthew Ladner


    I’m curious- what is purpose the purpose of building school buildings, if not education? Housing students is not a part of educating them?

  14. Tom Horne’s number is inflated also.

  15. Francine Shacter

    In the words of my dear, departed mother: “Liars figure and figures lie.”

    The kind of neat thing about numbers is how people can twist them to their own ends – and I admire the skill of our Republican Arizona legislators in doing just that!