For being the chief financial officer of Wake Stone Corp, Tom Oxholm should know better than to just make up financial statistics. Oxholm and businesswoman Brenda Berg complain about the lack of education funding in an op-ed published in the News & Observer today. They ask the following rhetorical question,
Did you realize that North Carolina is 49th in the country in K-12 per pupil funding?
Well, no, Tom and Brenda, I did not realize that. Tell me more. You can’t? Why not?
The truth is that the “49th in the nation myth” has been circulating within the public school advocacy community for about a year now. It is based on the premise that you can take per pupil expenditure estimates published by the National Education Association (NEA) in December 2010 and adjust North Carolina’s expenditures for the 2011-12 school year without making similar adjustments for any other state. Of course, a proper ranking would take into account actual per pupil expenditures and adjust each state’s average according to budget changes made in the given fiscal year.
I feel sorry for the fact that Mr. Oxholm and Ms. Berg fell victim to misinformation from public school advocacy organizations like the state NEA affiliate, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), and the North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA). The same thing happened to Governor Bev Perdue last week. She used the figure to defend her proposed sales tax increase. (And look what it led to this week! I keed. I keed.)
However, I do not excuse the editors of the News & Observer for allowing the line to be published in the first place. Indeed, the editors of the Greensboro News & Record had the good sense to question the statistic in a July 2011 editorial. They wrote,
The Democratic governor’s approach was forceful and effective, although it relied on some mythmaking. “Because of decisions made this year by the General Assembly, North Carolina is 49th in the nation in public education,” she said.
That startling number is hard to verify. Like North Carolina, most states have just completed new budgets. There are no studies yet evaluating where they all rank in education funding. But if North Carolina stands 49th, it didn’t suddenly tumble out of the top 10. A U.S. Commerce Department report on public school financing released in May placed North Carolina 42nd in 2009 — when Democrats had full control of state government.
Notice that N&R editors and/or reporters did the responsible thing and took a few minutes to try to verify the number. (Hint. Hint.)