Making an increase look like a decrease

When Republican foes at the Star Tribune are faced with the Legislature's historic increase in K-12 spending for the upcoming biennium, they make it look like a decrease in spending:

If education is what matters most, then Minnesotans should take care to sort the spin from the facts about the 2005 Legislature's education investment. The increase in K-12 funding is being sold as the biggest in more than a decade -- and in nominal dollars, it is. But that claim relies on a combination of state and local dollars, and does not take inflation and enrollment change into account. Considering just state spending and comparing inflation-adjusted dollars per capita, Minnesota's K-12 investment in the new biennium will decline 1.4 percent from the previous one.

First, all dollars are taxpayer dollars, whether they come from the state or local property taxes. State taxes are not a "more legitimate" source of education revenue than local taxes, unless Robin Hood is your model. Second, per capita spending is a fallacious way to measure education spending, unless you're desperate to spin an increase into a decrease. The Republican Party of Minnesota clarified the situation in its e-mail newsletter last week:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Minnesota's population has grown steadily over the last ten years, and from 2000 to 2004, it grew 3.69 percent.

However, K-12 enrollment in Minnesota's schools has declined. According to Minnesota Department of Education figures, from the 2000-2001 school year to the 2004-2005 school year, enrollment in Minnesota's schools decreased 1.86 percent.

So the population serviced by K-12 education funding is decreasing, and the Star Tribune Editorial Board wants to measure it by an entirely different set of figures that is increasing.

Here's the real facts: In the 2006-2007 biennium, per pupil education funding increased 7.8 percent and school districts could receive even more if they use QComp or performance pay incentives.