Gov. Perdue and the “49th in per-pupil spending” myth

According to the News & Observer, Governor Perdue wants to raise taxes because “North Carolina has fallen to 49th in the nation in per-pupil funding.”  Last year, I discussed the problems associated with per-pupil expenditure rankings.  Here is part of what I wrote for my July 26, 2011 newsletter.

During months of budget deliberations, politicians and special interest groups repeatedly claimed that North Carolina ranks 49th in the nation in per-pupil education spending. I contend that there are many reasons why citizens, and the media that “informs” them, should challenge the legitimacy of one of the Left’s favorite talking points.

With the exception of a recent Greensboro News & Record editorial, the mainstream media never questioned the origin and validity of the argumentum ad nauseam (argument by repetition). At minimum, the journalists who cited the ranking should have acknowledged the fact that the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) obtained their information from “Rankings & Estimates 2010–2011,” a study conducted by their parent organization — the National Education Association (NEA).


The NEA published their per-pupil expenditure rankings in December 2010, that is, well before the end of the 2010-2011 school year and months before any state legislature passed a budget. NEA researchers based their estimate for North Carolina, in part, on state budgets written and passed by Democratic leaders that no longer control the General Assembly. Simply put, the rankings were educated guesses based on the budgetary trends from previous years. Researchers could not (and are not expected to) anticipate changes to state political and economic conditions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

This final point is key.  North Carolina ranks 49th in the nation in per-pupil expenditure only if you believe that 1) other states made no changes to their public education budgets, or 2) NEA projections were correct for every states and D.C.

Terry Stoops / Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies

Terry Stoops is the Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the Locke Foundation, he worked as the progra...

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