Friday, May 27, 2011

Ghost-ly Statistics revisited

The year was 2005. The ‘KERA Amen Chorus’ was hot with accusations that Kentuckians were education cheapskates. That charge was based on a Governing Magazine study that said Kentucky ranked last in the nation for education spending. Governing said their ranking was based on data from the US Census Bureau. It looked damning.

But, the Bluegrass Institute thought the numbers looked wrong. We talked to the real experts at Census and found out that Governing Magazine indeed used the wrong Census data file to do its ranking. We found out the ‘right stuff’ from Census is contained in an annually released document titled “Public Education Finances.”

Governing’s problem: Kentucky uses unusual education funding policies that make it tricky to do apples-to-apples comparisons to education funding elsewhere. Governing used a Census file that was based on an incomplete, school district level picture of spending. That file totally omitted Kentucky’s large expenditures on teacher health care and teacher retirement, which are funded at the state level rather than the district level in the Bluegrass State. The charge we were dead last was based on ‘Ghost-ly Statistics.’

Flash forward to the present. A few days ago, the US Census Bureau released Public Education Finances 2009.

It is interesting to compare the total amounts Table 1 in the Census report says we spent on education in 2008-09 to the amounts that come from the Kentucky Department of Education’s own Revenue and Expenditures Report.

As you can see, there is a considerable difference. This in general is due to the amount we pay for teacher retirement and health care.

Those big ticket costs are often omitted from discussions about how much the taxpayer spends on education in Kentucky, turning these large dollar amounts into “Ghost-ly Statistics.”

But, Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer, your wallet knows – those big dollars are no ghosts.

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