Caputo-Pearl’s Spending Stats “Hover Around” Accuracy

In his speech outlining his plan to “create a crisis” in California, United Teacher Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl cited several statistics to support his arguments. Such as:

“California hovers around 45th among the 50 states in per-pupil funding.”

There are multiple ways to measure this, but the closest statistic that matches Caputo-Pearl’s words is public school revenue per-student. The National Education Association’s Rankings & Estimates study places California in 39th position among states in this regard. I think that just barely makes the outside edge of a “hover,” but even so, it’s misleading. Check a few pages ahead in the NEA report and you find current expenditures per student – in other words, what the state actually spends. California ranks 22nd. You’ll need a lot of aviation fuel to hover between 45th and 22nd.

What about cost-of-living adjustments? Assuming we could agree on a measure, let’s not forget that the cost of California government contributes to the cost of living. And spending on schools eats up the lion’s share of the state budget. It’s easy to find oneself arguing that school spending needs to be high to compensate for… school spending being high.

Let’s move on.

“And, per prison inmate spending in California is 7 times the amount of per-pupil spending for K-12 students.”

Caputo-Pearl can get away with something you and I can’t. He compares the housing, feeding and incarceration of violent criminals with teaching California public school students. Nevertheless, his shocking statistic becomes a lot less shocking when you realize there are 6.2 million students in California public schools and about 129,000 inmates in California prisons (another 4,800 are incarcerated in Arizona and Mississippi). I know Caputo-Pearl understands the concept of fixed costs, since he and other UTLA officers constantly employ it to argue against the expansion of charter schools.

Leading us to…

“Broad-Walmart has stated they will spend close to $20 million on political campaigns and lobbying, while the California Charter Schools Association just dumped $10 million into the June elections, and is prepared to escalate that in the coming months. Comparatively, UTLA has $400,000 in our PACE account annually from member contributions. That alone equates to us being outspent 60-to-1.”

It does, if you compare the sum total of your opponents’ political spending with only one category of yours. This dodge is the first lesson in Union Officer 101. Here’s an example of Caputo-Pearl using it soon after he took office in an interview with an Los Angeles Times reporter who didn’t catch it.

Q: How much of members’ dues goes to UTLA’s political activities?

A: We have a separate way of raising money for electoral campaigns. Teachers have to sign up; it’s not automatic. That goes specifically for school board campaigns, things like that. Of course we want to know whether candidates support our “Schools L.A. Students Deserve” initiative, but financially it’s separate.

The question was about “political activities” and the answer was about “electoral campaigns.” It’s true: candidate PAC money is financially separate from the union’s general fund. But dues money – money kept in UTLA’s general fund and special assessment funds – is used for every other type of political activity, including lobbying, independent expenditures, GOTV efforts, issue ads, and the tens of millions targeted for the Prop 55 campaign and other ballot initiatives.

Nor does UTLA have to rely solely on its own revenues. It has the mammoth political war chests of the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers from which to draw. And that doesn’t count other friendly unions and federations like SEIU, AFSCME and the AFL-CIO.

If creating a crisis requires being creative with numbers, Caputo-Pearl is off to a solid start.

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