Links, chains and the Goldwater Institute

by David Safier

Once again, let me admit that I'm not knowledgeable enough to discuss the details of Arizona's school funding. But I know snake oil when I see it. And G.I. is selling snake oil.

Last night, I put up a statement by LEAN dissecting the claim by Matthew Ladner and the Goldwater Institute that Arizona spends $9,700 per pupil on education. Here is one of the items Ladner includes in the total, according to LEAN:

Lunch money.  The districts have to account for the lunch money from students and the federal lunch program, but these dollars are spent for (you guessed it!):  lunches.  In the Foothills schools, this money channels through the district office and goes to Sodexho for providing the service.  This may not seem like a lot of money in the scheme of things, but in FY 2007-2008, food service money accounted for $346 million dollars in the overall Dept of Education revenue total.

I guess LEAN's statement is true, because Ladner doesn't disagree. Instead, he says in a comment:

 Lots of money in the public school system having nothing to do with educating kids? I completely agree with that. That's a problem to be solved, not a condition to be accepted.

So Ladner includes the money parents give to their children go buy lunch as a state expenditure — without shame. He includes free lunches as well. I could accept him disagreeing with the concept of free lunch, but including it in per pupil education funding is pure deception.

Ladner also lumped in money for adult education in his figure, and even he doesn't try to defend that sleight of hand. But rather than correcting himself, he just brushes it aside as unimportant.

Any argument is only as strong as its weakest link, and Ladner's argument broke apart twice. Since I don't question his intelligence, I assume he knew what he was doing each time. That makes all his budget assertions suspect. If he fudged in deceptive figures not once but twice, what else did he include that should have been excluded?

This is what makes G.I. so dangerous and slippery. Most people haven't done enough research to argue with the assertions these people make. I include myself when it comes to budget issues. They know this. So they compare apples and oranges with one hand, cherry pick facts with the other and try to pass it off as truth.

I'll stay in the apples/oranges/cherries metaphorical orchard and promise, I will continue to pick low hanging fruit from G.I's tree of deception in future posts. There's plenty within easy reach.

10 responses to “Links, chains and the Goldwater Institute

  1. David Safier

    Mr. Ladner.

    I’m going to let this strand fade away without a thorough answer to your comments. You want to focus on one issue, I want to focus on another. It makes no sense to talk past one another.

    If you want to say, “Aha, Safier conceded, that proves I’m right!” I’ll try try to silently disagree and allow you that moment uncontested (I can’t promise, but I’ll try.) I imagine we shall meet again in another strand.

  2. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    You’ve made a game attempt to distract from the main issue here, which is just how much money public schools receive. As it turns out, the JLBC has a new document out that calculates total expenditure per pupil in K-12 up to FY 2007.

    As you will see, the figure they provide is $9,399. The revenue figure that I supplied was for the next year, and was $9,707.

    The great Daniel Patrick Moynihan once stated that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. Here’s a fact: Arizona public schools receive and spend over $9,000 per pupil per year, which is far above what is received or spent per pupil in both charter schools, and the average private school in Arizona.

    Jump up and down and beat your chest about how the $4.4 million spent on adult ed proves that I’m really Dr. Evil with an anti-family agenda. Maybe that $200 million in lunch money proves that I routinely travel to the Artic to club baby seals. Whatever. None of this can distract from the fact that taxpayers put a large amount of money into the public school system.

    Here’s another fact: 44% of Arizona 4th graders scored below basic on the 2007 NAEP reading exam. If and when you progressives ever get interested in progress, you’re going to have to recognize the fact that going away our biggest opportunity to improve education lies in making better use of the resources already in the system.

  3. Much like Goldwater, the institute named after him is into hiding and slanting the truth. It is his “Operation Eagle Eye” for the present day.

  4. David Safier

    Mr. Ladner.
    I think you’re missing my point. You present information as definitive. Time and again, I find omissions, half truths or errors. You’re not a sloppy person or a mediocre thinker. You can spot those types of problems without my help. So my conclusion is, you mix truth, half truth and distortion together for political ends. I prefer writers on all sides of the political spectrum who frame their arguments carefully and truthfully.

  5. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    If your underfunded schools myth is to be preserved, your LEAN friends will have to do much better than this.

    As you yourself hinted, the entire meal revenue stream is a very small source of revenue compared to the total. Furthermore, a large portion of it is paid for by federal funds and for an educational purpose- to provide breakfasts and lunches to low income children in the hope that it will improve their ability to learn.

    Some portion of the meal revenue, however, is simply a private transaction and ought not to count. Some portion of about 3% of the total however is not impressive.

    I snooped around the 164 page financial report and found a $4.4 million line item for adult education. In a $9.2 billion budget, this constitutes a rounding error.

    So let’s give your argument the benefit of the doubt and say that $200m of that $300m+ meal revenue was private. That takes the revenue per pupil number figure down by a whopping 2% to around $9,500 and change.

    Keep trying. Also, recall that the charter school figure with those rounding errors included was $7,800 per pupil, and the average private school cost was around $5,500 in 2006.

    In addition, let me note again that I have consistently referred to this number as a revenue per pupil figure, rather than an expenditure figure.

    Donna- the problem to be solved that I was referring to was the fact that a great deal of education funds go to things unrelated to learning.

  6. The Goldwater Institute chooses to identify as non-partisan, which as far as Arizona goes means they don’t go out of their way to favor Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians or Greens. That they have a particular political mindset is a fact that nobody disputes. Some people may call it conservative.

    As for the Goldwater Institute being anti-family I would disagree with that assessment. The Goldwater Institute from what I gather wants to allow families to have greater choices when it comes to K-12 education. That seems pretty pro-family to me. Of course if someone thinks that only government officials are capable of making correct educational choices then you might, from that particular modern day liberal mindset, call that anti-family but I doubt many families in Arizona would agree.

    I have little interest in chopping government budget figures but if feeding children is part of the educational budget in Arizona that it shouldn’t be included when budget dollars are being examined and quoted.

  7. David Safier

    Donna, funny you should mention “how Goldwater is often identified as a “nonpartisan” think tank when it is clearly conservative and in the pocket of big business and GOP operatives.” Here’s the lead paragraph from a story in today’s Payson Roundup:
    “The emotional debate that emerged after a well-intentioned researcher from the Goldwater Institute presented his analysis of Florida’s education revolution was perhaps inevitable.” The researcher was Matt Ladner.

    Well intentioned researcher. He sounds like a disinterested prof who wants nothing more than to spread unbiased information and wisdom.

  8. For years, the Goldwater Institute has gotten away with manipulating data and simply lying about public policy matters to pursue their radical anti-family agenda.

    Bless you for trying to set the record straight for the reality-based community who are not family-haters like the Goldwater Institute.

  9. And does Ladner honestly believe that feeding children is a “problem to be solved”? Did he really say that?

  10. What really chaps me is how Goldwater is often identified as a “nonpartisan” think tank when it is clearly conservative and in the pocket of big business and GOP operatives.