by David Safier
I'm still getting daily emails from the Goldwater Institute — my fault, I requested them — and they're still full of whoppers. Often, I just grit my teeth because I don't know enough about the subject at hand to mount an effective argument. But when it comes to education . . .
In an April 1 email, G.I. was back to asserting that Arizona spends $9,500 per student on education, using a Joint Legislative Budget Committee study to back up the claim. I'll leave that statement be. The metaphysical "irresistible object meets immovable force" discussions about that topic on BfA don't need to be repeated.
But then the email claims the study says we spend $1,000 more per student today than in 2003, an assertion I hadn't seen before.
So I looked up the JLBC study and found that the next-to-last line is labeled "Funding per student." Sure enough, the 2003 funding is listed as $8,380, and the 2008 funding is listed at $9,519. There you have it: about $1,000 more spent in 2008.
But then I looked down at the last line.
The last line is labeled "Inflation adjusted funding per student." The study begins in 2000, so it uses that year as the standard and adjusts all the other years for inflation. That's what any reasonable study does when it wants to show if there's a real increase or decrease in spending.
Adjusted for inflation, the 2003 per student funding is $7,895, and the 2008 is $7,871. In other words, in constant dollars, Arizona actually spent a few dollars more in 2003 than in 2008, not less.
You know, when I began teaching, I could buy gas for 39 cents a gallon and ground beef for 49 cents a pound. That was 1969. Of course, my salary was less than $8,000 that year, so those figures can't really be compared to what things cost today. It's pretty obvious, you have to adjust for inflation.
G.I.'s assertion that we spent $1,000 more per student in 2003 than in 2008 looks like such a blatant misrepresentation of the figures in the JLBC study, part of me wonders if I got it wrong. I worry my friends over at G.I. will write a comment proving I'm a complete idiot, and I'll spend the rest of the day wiping egg off my face. Or maybe they'll say, "Didn't you see the April 1 date on the email? April Fools, guy! Gotcha!"
But I've gone over and over the figures and even checked with someone else who knows how to read these things better than I do, and I think I got it right.
Unless I'm told differently, I'm going to assume the worst, that whoever put this together at G.I. purposely distorted one of the findings in the study to make a point. We can quibble about whether it's a lie or simply a "selective use of the data." Since it looks to me like their purpose is to deceive, I prefer to call it a lie.