by Max Brantley
A useful article from Wisconsin illustrates how numbers can be massaged to suit political purposes.
In Wisconsin, in support of a continuing push for more spending on private school vouchers, voucher supporters like to say the state spends less on school vouchers than on conventional public schools. It's not true.
By the same token, it was misleading this week when the Arkansas Billionaire Boys Club suggested repeatedly that charter schools in Arkansas — and the voucher program many of them also want to create — receive less state funding than real public schools.
Per pupil spending is greater if 1) You don't count the private money many charter schools receive and, most of all, 2) you count local property taxes in the equation.
Good example is Little Rock, where charter schools receive roughly $6,600 per student from the state. Little Rock School District haters like to note that the district spends nearly $10,000 per student, not counting desegregation funding for magnet schools and interdistrict transfers. Yes, but .... Almost three fourths of that $10,000 comes from the Little Rock property tax. That is not state money, except to the extent its considered such as part of the uniform 25-mill charge against all school districts (not charter schools) for general education funding. Purely state funding of MANY public schools in Arkansas, not just in Little Rock, is lower than the amount given charter schools because of local property tax contributions. Don't say it's all the same thing. It's not. Not unless you fine folks in Gravette would agree to share your local property tax with the fine folks in Little Rock.
I'd like to see some overall calculations done in Arkansas for pure state spending on real public school students versus the amount sent to charter schools. In Wisconsin, private school students in Milwaukee get about $6,400 a year each from the state. About 80 percent of the schools in that state receive less per student in pure state aid.
EARLY WARNING: While we're speaking about Wisconsin and the advent of vouchers .... If they happen here you can bet they'll mimic the experience of Wisconsin — a vast transfer of public tax money to religious schools and the philosophies they espouse.