Why not just ignore G.I.?

by David Safier

I've spent an unconscionable amount of time trying to expose the half truths and lies of the Goldwater Institute, and I have no idea how many millions of pixels had to die to support the cause.

The question I sometimes ask myself is, why give them so much attention? Why not leave well enough alone?

Here's my answer. One of the major battles in Arizona is over the future of education. Education is my main passion and the reason I began blogging, so whenever I see G.I. or anyone else push an anti public education agenda, I have to respond.

But more important, G.I. provides the faux-scholarly fig leaf to cover the naked attempts of Arizona's right wing to dismantle public education. G.I. pulls together the figures and ideas. G.I. writes the talking points. The Republican legislative staff reformats them and and uses them to justify slashing public education while pushing tax credits and vouchers. The media too often treats G.I. as if it's an objective, scholarly source of information.

Arizona liberals don't have an equivalent organization, so G.I.'s claims often go unanswered, or they're answered ineffectually. It takes money and staff to pull this kind of stuff together. I wish to hell we had our own Arizona progressive institute or foundation or whatever you want to call it. I'd love to have a group that could crank out research papers and carefully worded justifications for our agenda. The difference would be, our group would stick closer to the truth, because, as Stephen Colbert puts it, reality has a liberal bias.

Since we don't have an equivalent group, I've taken on the quixotic task of answering the half truths and lies as well as I can. Volunteer groups are beginning to do similar work. BfA readers are carrying a great deal of the burden as well. The not-totally-surprising thing is how well we're able to counter G.I. For all the group's money, it often has the thankless task of defending the indefensible. That makes it easier for amateurs like us to poke holes in their arguments.

We ignore G.I. at our peril. When their statements go uncontested, they live on as "fact." Just look at the Rovian spin machine's work for the past eight years, and you'll see what I mean. So I will continue to answer them when and where I can.

8 responses to “Why not just ignore G.I.?

  1. I’ll offer my thought on this which is regardless of what dollar figure you think is correct, at least Mr. Safier is using the honest term “public education” instead of just “education” as if there isn’t any non-public education out there.

  2. Matthew Ladner


    Todd is making a claim about classroom spending per pupil, not total spending per pupil.

    On the ranking question, there are two states that I am familar with enough to detect whether they are lying about their numbers: Texas and Arizona. I spent the first 36 years of my life in Texas, and since the early 1990s you could match up their total expenditures and divide by the number of students and get the same number they were reporting.

    I have been living in Arizona for the last five years, and found the state of school finance transparency here abysmal compared to Texas. I ought not, however, to have made the assumption that the rest of the country was necessarily like Texas, which is why I have conceeded the point that I ought to make no claims regarding rankings, and have agreed not to do so going forward.

    I disagree however that dividing the total revenues and expenditures by the total number of students is anything other that the number that most people are referring to when they say “how much do we spend per pupil.” I don’t know whether it is the actual full cost per pupil, because I’m not sure whether things like pension costs are included, but that if you want to know how much we are spending per pupil, you take the spending and divide by the number of pupils. Granted, things like adult ed and a kid buying a twinkie with his own money shouldn’t count, but these things are minor, and the expenditure and revenue numbers come close to matching up.


    A have publicly stated and written that public schools are a permanent feature of American education, and I am happy to do so again now. I attended public schools, my mother taught in a public school, and my children attend a very high quality Arizona public school that my wife and I are very happy with.

    What I am against is not public schools, but rather ineffective public schooling. I am in favor of taking bold steps to improve public education like the ones that have been taken in Florida, where free and reduced lunch eligible Hispanic students now outscore the statewide average for all students in Arizona on 4th grade reading. They did this with strong standards, consequences for school failure, limiting social promotion, alternative teacher certification and expanded parental choice.

    I am not willing to excuse a system that receives over $9,000 per pupil, but has 44% of our 4th graders scoring below basic in reading. What I see in this state are two pernicious myths inhibiting progress- one, that we cannot expect better results without a huge infusion of money. Two- that Arizona’s education problems are ultimately due to our demographic profile, which is too often could be seen as a coded message saying “let’s blame the Hispanics.”

    There are deceptive elements of truth to both of these stories. There are plenty of states that spend more money than Arizona. Arizona does have a very difficult demographic profile- lots of low-income and ELL children for instance.

    That does not however mean that we can’t do better with the resources we have available, which is precisely the task that we must do if we are serious about improvement. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again- there is no prospect for a major increase in per pupil funding on the horizon given other budgetary demands. Zero point zero. That does not mean we have to accept 44% of our 4th graders scoring below basic in fourth grade reading despite spending $9k per pupil- it means we need to figure out how to spend the funds we have available more effectively. Other states have done it- I believe Arizona can as well.

  3. David Safier

    Mr. Ladner.

    Let me add a question to todd’s. Have you abandoned any attempt to create a cost per pupil ranking for Arizona? You’ve implied as much, but I take that to be a retreat from your earlier position. Looking at your $9,000 figure in isolation or in relation to lower numbers in other states reached by using different figures confuses the issue. If you want to make the point that public education all over the country spends too much money, please state that clearly.

    If, as todd says, you’ve included figures in Arizona’s cost per student that other states leave out, it’s possible we’re still at or near the bottom when we’re comparing all the numbers. But a more reasonable analysis using the figures you include would be to compare us to states that have had population growth like we have. Those are the states that need to build more schools. Others find themselves abandoning schools. That skews the year-by-year analysis if it includes capital outlays. This is far more complicated than “divide this number by this number to get the answer.” I think you cheapen your argument by sticking with your simplistic formula as a way to arrive at the absolute truth. It’s more of a sound byte than a genuine argument.

    On a completely different subject, the Mr. Ladner/Mr. Safier address form is more formal than I generally like to use. I think it made sense when we first locked horns, but now that we’ve swapped a few words back and forth, we know each other better. I suggest we drop the formality. If you agree, I’d rather be called David, and I would be happy to address you as Matthew. I’ll let you make the call. I’m good either way.

  4. I don’t think one has to have elaborate justifications on how to calculate per pupil spending. Let’s just look at the Arizona Auditor General –

    “The classroom dollar percentage is calculated using terms defined by the U.S. Department of
    Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Only “current expenditures” are included
    in the calculation. Current expenditures are those incurred for the school district’s day-to-day operation
    and do not include costs associated with repaying debts, capital outlays (such as purchasing land,
    buildings, and equipment), and programs, such as adult education and community services, that are
    not associated with preschool to grade 12 education. Debt payments and capital outlays benefit more
    than one period and vary significantly from year to year. Therefore, these costs are excluded to make
    year-to-year and district-to-district comparisons meaningful.

    Seems like a pretty clear and concise explanation to me. Again, your calculations are used to further an argument that Arizona’s per-pupil spending is not at the bottom of US states.

    I find it odd, Mr. Ladner, that you accuse David of having a cartoon version of reality when you infantilize arguments you disagree with by comparing them to a teddy bear. There are many intelligent people who disagree with your points of view, this does not mean you are wrong, but I find it interesting that the Moynihan quote could well apply to one who chooses to make arguments about public education by claiming your opponents are merely insisting on being ignorant.

    I do have a question for you – I don’t believe you are in any way a neanderthal, but would you have us believe that if you had your way public education would continue to exist? If you feel this view of you is wrong, please clear the air and put these concerns to rest.

  5. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    Honesty and rigor require you to be able to prove your assertions, not merely feel them.

    You won’t get any arguments from me about the Republican Party or even large elements of the conservative movement having gone off the rails. I also suspect that Barry Goldwater would have been disgusted by much of what has transpired in the last 10 years.

    That however is not the topic at hand. You can “honestly believe” that the Goldwater Institute does damage, or tells lies, or whatever you want to believe. Unless you can actually demonstrate this, however, you might want to be more circumspect making such reckless charges.

    As for Todd’s comments, if you will review them carefully, you will see that he has engaged in a logical slide. He is trying to justify the lowball number by claiming that all the other states calculate their number in a similar lowball way.

    I not only demonstrated that this is not the case, it actually is not what is being discussed. I’ve established that Arizona public schools receive and spend over $9,000 per year per pupil. That is the question- how much do they receive, and how much do they spend per pupil. Todd and others can come up with elaborate arguments for reporting a number far lower than that if you wish, but in reality there is huge difference between this $6,500 myth and what is actually being spent.

    I asked you above whether you valued your intellectual honesty or your ideological teddy bears more highly. That $6,500 teddy bear is awfully cuddly. While you nap, he whispers to you that if only we would pump more money into our public schools, that everything would be better. He claims that we can’t expect anything more out of our schools without putting in vast amounts of additional dollars. He tells you that you are the good guy, and that people who want various reforms are neanderthals who want to destroy public education.

    This is a simplistic, cartoon version of reality. As Moynihan said-ideological certainty easily degenerates into an insistence upon ignorance. You’ve admitted to a yearning to simply ignore people who don’t agree with you in the title of this blog post.

    You’ve successfully fought it off so far, but you seem to have occasional relapses into name calling. Don’t give in to the “reflexive pattern of denial” described by Senator Moynihan. People like that on both the right and the left are terribly boring.

  6. David Safier

    I don’t consider it uncivil to state something I believe is true. My definition of incivility is being personally insulting. You and I have genuine, rather deep differences. If we were having a beer together, that would be one thing, but on this blog, I’m trying to be as honest and rigorous as possible, and that means stating what I think is true. I honestly believe G.I. does damage to the Arizona I would like to see, and I believe it does so using various forms of deception. If you consider an honestly stated opinion to be uncivil, so be it.

    The back-and-forth you and todd had poked numerous holes in your contention about the import of the numbers you cite for Arizona’s cost per pupil. When I’m told over and over, “It’s simple, just divide this by this” about something as complex as government finances, I suspect an agenda is behind the simplicity.

    You know, there was a time, when conservatives were in the wilderness, when the movement and ideology was purer than it is today. It’s easier to stay pure when you’re out of power. What Moynihan said had bearing when he said it. But the desire to hold onto power does funny things to people and movements — conservatives, liberals, anyone. Barry Goldwater wouldn’t be happy with what the conservative movement has become. I imagine Moynihan would have different things to say about you folks today than he did when he wrote those words.

  7. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    Sigh…just when I thought you were starting to be civil. I didn’t hear any of you progressives complaining when the Goldwater Institute issued a report that was critical of the Sheriff’s Office, or when we sued to prevent the city of Phoenix giving away almost $100 million away to a billionaire developer in corporate welfare.

    Or when I testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights along with representatives of the NAACP and MALDEF on racial discrimination in special education. See if you can find much disagreement between us in the transcript:


    It would be much easier for you if your political opponents were all buffoonish super-villains, but I’m afraid that you don’t have that luxury. It would be much easier that way, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately for you, things are not always so simple.

    Which reminds me of a great story from Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s book Miles to Go. In the early 1990s, Senator Moynihan asked Laura D’Andrea Tyson of the Clinton Administration for two supportive studies justifying the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a favored program.

    Moynihan received two studies the following day, but after reading them, noted that both studies actually concluded similar programs had failed to produce any positive, and possibly even negative results. In response, Moynihan wrote the following in a letter to Tyson:

    “In the last six months I have been repeatedly impressed by the number of members of the Clinton administration who have assured me with great vigor that something or other is known in an area of social policy which, to the best of my understanding, is not known at all. This seems to me perilous. It is quite possible to live with uncertainty, with the possibility, even the likelihood that one is wrong. But beware of certainty where none exists. Ideological certainty easily degenerates into an insistence upon ignorance.”

    Moynihan continued:

    “The great strength of political conservatives at this time (and for a generation) is that they are open to the thought that matters are complex. Liberals have got into the reflexive pattern of denying this. I had hoped that twelve years in the wilderness might have changed this; it may be that it has only reinforced it. If this is so, the current revival of liberalism will be brief and inconsequential.

    Daniel Patrick Moynihan”

    Look it up- pages 46-49.

    So the question is- do you have an ideological insistence upon ignorance Mr. Safier? You’ve seen the Superintendent’s Financial Report, your $6 calculator can divide the revenue number by the student count number. Your friends tried to distract you with some minor revenue figures which ought to be excluded, but those are small beer. You’ve seen the JLBC expenditure number, which is remarkably similar to the revenue number, but wildly different than the obviously absurd low-ball number floating around.

    Who are you going to believe- some number put out by ADE, or your own lying eyes? What do you treasure more- your intellectual honesty, or your ideological teddy bear?

  8. The lies of the family-hating Goldwater Institute must be answered, if only because so many simple-minded Arizonans (a large proportion of the population in that backward state) believe them.