NEA Convention 2012: America’s Greatest Education Governor Not So Great at Math

After the speech by Vice President Joe Biden, most of today was spent debating new business items (NBIs). Notable among these:

NBI 10 revealed that 10 NEA managers had been notified by telephone that their positions were being eliminated, but the effort to address it was ruled out of order. NEA president Van Roekel cited the by-law that gives the union’s executive director exclusive responsibility over staff matters.

Delegates voted not to consider NBI 14, which called on NEA to “publicly oppose any policy of U.S. military action against Iran.”

They approved NBI 22, which directs the union to develop a strategy to reverse the Citizens United decision through an amendment to the Constitution - even though NEA general counsel Alice O’Brien informed the delegates that such an amendment could adversely affect NEA’s own political action.

NEA also bestowed its “America’s Greatest Education Governor” award on Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton. This is not as great an honor as it might first appear, as only 20 people are realistically eligible, and two of them have already received the award.

Gov. Dayton was gracious enough to actually show up for his award, and gave a short speech in which he cited a few education statistics.

One of these stopped me in my tracks. Gov. Dayton claimed that between 2000 and 2010, some measure of education spending or revenue in Minnesota had been cut by 14 percent - in real dollars, he emphasized.

By contrast, he noted, his administration was going to raise per-pupil spending $50 next year, and $50 the year after that. (Applause all around.)

Now Minnesota has seen significant declines in enrollment over the past few years, so I wondered if it were really possible that the governor was correct. So I went to the Minnesota Department of Education web site to see what I could see.

The agency helpfully provides Excel tables on state education revenues going back to 1996, and even more helpfully adjusts those numbers for inflation. Based on constant 1996 dollars, spending per pupil in 2000 was $5,241 and in 2010 was $5,848. That’s an increase of 11.6 percent in real dollars. I can’t even find a sub-category of spending or revenue anywhere close to a 14 percent cut.

It appears Gov. Dayton has made a similar claim before. In April 2010, he said, “During the Pawlenty years, state education aid has been cut by an average over $1,400 per student in kindergarten through 12th grade.”

Corrected by a reporter, Dayton compounded his claim, stating, “Well, it’s not been increased relative to inflation. Then it’s effectively a cut. This is $1,400 in real (dollars) after inflation, to make it clear.”

Whether he means 14 percent or $1,400 doesn’t matter. Minnesota didn’t cut education spending between 2000 and 2010.

Just to add the cherry on top, Gov. Dayton’s $50 per-pupil increase amounts to 0.4 percent, and another 0.4 percent the following year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates inflation for the next two years to be 1.2 percent and 1.3 percent.