This is how I imagine legendary comedians Abbott and Costello would discuss public education:
Costello: I want to help public schools. Which state is last in education funding?
Abbott: That’s Utah, but Idaho falls close behind.
Costello: Wait, so Idaho’s behind? That makes them last.
Abbott: No, Idaho’s almost last. But Oklahoma says they’re second-to-last, too. And Florida and Arizona.
Costello: So who’s behind who?
Abbott: They’re all behind.
Costello: You’re not telling me who’s last but who’s not last?
Abbott: There’s no competition for last, but five are almost last, 49th.
Costello: Idaho, Oklahoma, Florida, Arizona...that’s four.
Abbott: North Carolina makes five.
Costello: But I thought there were four.
Abbott: Now there are five. But there used to be 8.
Costello: Eight states are last?
Abbott: No, 8 states are next-to-last: 49th.
Costello: But now there are 4?
Costello: So who’s last?
Abbott: No, Who’s on first...
Various states and media outlets have been essentially parroting Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” routine this way for years. Since 2007, local media in five states have named their state “49th” in education funding. In 2005, eight states were crowned 49th. While we all argue over who is second-to-last in funding, we ignore the larger problem: Despite decades of increasing education funding, student achievement is no higher today than it was 40 years ago. In Arizona, real per-student funding more than doubled between 1969-70 and 2008-09, but test scores are flat.
Competition to be named next-to-last in education funding distracts from real education reform. Voters should reject the education union’s initiative to raise Arizona’s sales tax and instead demand reforms that give all parents the power to choose the best educational experience for their child. That will help put Arizona on first.
• Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.