Friday, September 05, 2008

The Trail of a Comment

I left a comment at a Washington Post blog on Wednesday. It has been well-traveled ever since.

A commenter there claimed that Palin had slashed special education funding by 62%. I found this claim implausible, so I did just a few minutes of digging. Sure enough, that commenter had made the elementary error of failing to check to see whether one line item had been moved elsewhere in the budget -- as it had. In fact, funding had increased for the items in question.

So here was my comment:
A commenter (Jim Syar) accused Sarah Palin of reducing the special education budget by 62%. That is false. The special education budget actually increased by nearly 12%, as explained below.

As Syar correctly notes, the Alaska 2007 budget for special education was $8,265,300. But that included $5,352,000 for the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy.

In the 2009 budgetary document to which Syar links, astute observers will note that there is no mention of the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy. Instead, you have to look elsewhere. And guess what: There is now a specific document providing $6,082,100 for the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy. So combined with the $3,156,000 that Syar notes, the total is $9,238,100. A nearly 12% INCREASE, not a 62% decrease.
Writing at the Washington Monthly, Hilzoy claimed that Palin had cut special ed funding, thus contradicting Palin's claim to be an advocate of kids with special needs. In the comments, blogger Rory from Parentalcation quoted my Washington Post comment, which led Hilzoy to issue a retraction. Michelle Malkin reprinted my comment, as did a Daily Kos blogger. An Education Week blogger made the same point in words that rather resemble mine (such as capitalizing the word "INCREASE").

Matthew Yglesias and Brad DeLong, on the other hand, repeated the false claim. For reasons unknown, neither has issued a retraction. Even Soledad O'Brien made the same false claim of a 62% cut in an interview on CNN. (I am rarely inclined to trust 1) TV journalists, or 2) prolific bloggers, neither of whom have time to check on whether they're being accurate.)

Anyway, it was interesting to see how quickly misinformation and its correction can spread.


Blogger TurbineGuy said...

I just updated my post real quickly to give you credit.

Good work. I hope you don't mine me quoting you on my blog.

Got to go coach my son's flag football game (here in Anchorage), but I will check out your blog tonight.

8:22 PM  
Blogger ChrisB said...

Good work and all, but I'd rather take on the notion that the only way to be an "advocate of kids with special needs" is by spending taxpayer money.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

For reasons unknown, neither has issued a retraction.

You may not know the reasons, but they're not hard to guess.

Keep up the great work!

7:19 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

So how do we know your figures are accurate?

3:12 PM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

By following links and doing a bit of simple math.

12:06 PM  
Blogger JTa said...

As Democraticunderground points out -- there's more to the story:

From 2006-2008, oil revenues continued to soar. The Alaska Legislature authorized spending of $8.541 billion in 2007 ( In 2009 the authorization was 9.873 billion, ) an increase of $1.332 billion or 15.6% over two years, a percentage significantly more than the increase special needs kids got.

Special needs kids got less than the average budget increase that everyone else got.

Is this 11.4% increase for real? It's not really very much when you factor in inflation. The Anchorage Consumer Price Index advanced 4.6% over the past year ( ). Assuming an increase of 3% for the rest of the fiscal year, that would mean about a 3-4% real increase in funding over her first two years.

Now, about 2/3 of the special needs funding goes to the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy. In 2008, Palin proposed spending $1 million less than the Legislature wanted on that program, according to he Association of Alaska School Boards.\'s/LegiBull/030207.htm

But what is the heck is the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy? Googling it brings up nothing about what it actually does, except the state budget report which only states that "This instructional program is operated in Anchorage with student enrollees from across the state. Students work on challenging academic programs in a “boot camp” environment. Completing high school and building career goals and skills are the goals." Not much about special needs here.

Nor is there anything about it from the Alaska Division of Public Assistance or SERRC - Alaska’s Educational Resource Center - on its special needs page. The Alaska Family directory for schools is silent too."

3:00 PM  
Blogger cannydia said...

As Democraticunderground points out -- there's more to the story:

12:43 AM  

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