A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

More on the Phantom 62 Percent

In our recent article “Sliming Palin,” we addressed the pervasive rumor that Gov. Palin slashed funding for special needs education. She didn’t. Instead, she increased funding. Here’s more detail on how an increase got mistaken for a 62 percent decrease.

The evidence that’s been cited to support the false decrease claim:

  • The special schools component of the education budget for fiscal year 2007, before Palin was governor, was $8.3 million.
  • The special schools budget for 2008 was $3.2 million.
  • The special schools budget for 2009 was also $3.2 million.
  • A drop from $8.3 million to $3.2 million is a 62 percent drop.

All well and good – except for being completely off base. As we said in the article, this comes down to two major mistakes: looking at the wrong thing, and misinterpreting it. First, the special schools budget isn’t the special needs budget. The budget item for special needs students is called “Foundation Program,” and it did not decrease while Palin was governor. The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development told us that special needs and intensive needs students (that’s students with extreme special needs, the recipients of the largest per-student increase under Palin) got a total of $219 million in 2007, $220 million in 2008 and a projected $276 million in 2009. That’s a projected increase of 26 percent over Palin’s predecessor. Much of that increase went to intensive-needs students, as we discussed in the article, but all special needs funding went up, as did funding for all students. (Special needs funding is calculated based on the regular per-student rate, which is set to increase by $100 per student per year until 2011.)

But what about that 62 percent drop in the special schools budget? Never happened. In 2007, the special schools component consisted of four different schools and programs: the Alaska School for the Deaf; the school associated with the Alaska Psychiatric Institute; the Special Education Service Agency (which provides support for special needs students in small school districts); and the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy. A close look at the 2008 budget shows only three programs: the Alaska School for the Deaf, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and SESA. What happened to the “Alaska Challenge Youth Academy”? It moved to its own budget component, taking $5 million with it. All the money is there; it’s just that the youth academy is under a different budget category.

During Palin’s governorship, the funding amount for the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy (less concisely known as the ChalleNGe Program of the Alaska Military Youth Academy) actually increased. The rest of the special schools funding stayed the same – although there were a few small drops in SESA funding, which is based on a per-student allotment, because there were fewer K-12 students enrolled.

Some readers have written in insisting that Palin must have decreased funding first, then increased it for selfish reasons when her youngest child was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Palin may have already known about Trig’s diagnosis when she proposed the education funding changes in December 2007. But the implication that this was the reason for the change? Unwarranted, and an example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (one of our favorites). And there was no 62 percent decrease preceding the increase, because there has been no 62 percent decrease in special needs funding at any time during Palin’s administration.