Dismantling The Post-Dispatch’s Piece About Education (Part 3 of 4)
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board recently issued an opinion piece riddled with errors, faulty assumptions, and half-truths. This post is the third of four posts (part 1, part 2, and part 4) that aims to point out where the editorial board got it wrong.
Fallacy 3: State spending on education can easily be compared between states
In a brazen attempt to insult state policymakers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board wrote: “No matter how you slice it, Missouri’s lawmakers value education less than their peers in 39 other states do.” In reality, it does matter how you slice it and you can get the numbers the Post-Dispatch reports ONLY the way they slice it.
As evidence of the legislature’s feeble funding of education, the Post-Dispatch points to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau, which ranks Missouri 40th for the amount of state funds spent on education (Tables 11 and 12).
There’s just one problem with this, the definition of “state” and “local” funds is not consistent across states.
In Missouri, for instance, the funding formula counts local property taxes, the statewide 1 percent sales tax, and various other sources as local dollars. Arkansas ranked eighth in state funding for education, but Arkansas has a mandatory statewide property tax rate. That means all property taxes collected at that rate are considered state dollars, not local dollars.
In a tweet to Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream, the Post-Dispatch’s Tony Messenger defends the paper’s reliance on the state figure. Stream stated that the Post-Dispatch did not consider local dollars in their opinion piece, to which Messenger replied:
@rickstream it is absolutely considered. That is the problem. State has shifted burden to local districts and in effect raised our taxes.
— Tony Messenger (@tonymess) June 6, 2013
This exclusive reliance on the state figure demonstrates a lack of understanding of school funding systems.
Funding schools is a complicated endeavor that is done 50 different ways in the 50 different states. Because of how funding formulas work, you simply cannot easily make a state spending to state spending comparison. Likewise, you should not make the types of claims the Post-Dispatch editorial board made in its piece or Tony Messenger made on Twitter.