The N&O has developed “Fact Check” articles to assess the “truth” of various claims. I question the objectivity of the site’s claims, but that’s another story. Last week I found the following N &O Fact check story in Under the Dome. It’s a column assessing the validity of Gov. Perdue’s claims saying there are fewer dollars in the public school than there‘s ever been. The whole column is listed below.
Claim: “This is the facts. You all know the facts. There are fewer dollars in the public school system today than there’s ever been.”
Press conference: Held Monday by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue at the state Capitol
Context: Perdue is countering the Americans for Prosperity ad on education spending.
What the record shows: Total spending on K-12 that includes state, federal and local money has not been calculated and won’t be available until the school year ends. Last year’s total was $11.9 million. But “ever” is a long time, and you don’t have to go back too far to find years when total school spending was below $9 million. Total spending in the 2001-2002 budget was $8.5 million. Adjusted for inflation, that’s like spending $10.8 million in 2011.
Clarification: A spokesman for Perdue said she was referring to state spending on education as a percentage of the budget in the 2011-13 cycle.
This year, the state is spending 37.9 percent of its budget on K-12 schools. It was lower last year, at 37.4 percent, and in 2008-09, at 37.7 percent. Next year, K-12 spending is at 37.3 percent of the total, which is the lowest percentage going back to at least 1969-70.
Education spending as a percentage of the total budget has been declining fairly steadily for decades. In 1969-70, the state spent 52.5 percent of its budget on K-12 schools.
Ruling: Perdue’s claim from her news conference is false. However, the clarification provided by her staff is partly true. Next year’s budgeted K-12 spending, as a percentage of the budget, would be the lowest in 40 years and perhaps the lowest in modern N.C. history.
I have problems with the N&O piece so let’s run a Civitas Fact Check on the N&O Fact Check article.
Civitas Fact Check: What the record shows: In the paragraph titled “What the Record Shows” every figure listed in the paragraph - $11.9 million, $9 million, $8.5 million and $10.8 million is incorrect. The figures should be in billions – not millions. One oversight displacing million for billions can easily happen; and I’d be inclined to let it slide. However four times? And on a fact check article no less. Shouldn’t the very nature of the work command a higher degree of accuracy?
The N&O Fact Check article appeared last Tuesday in the Under the Dome section. I’ve searched for a correction but haven’t found one. This morning I emailed an N&O editor inquiring about a correction but have yet to receive a response. If the story ran in Under the Dome, wouldn’t it only be right to run a correction there as well and not buried somewhere on page 32?
Civitas Fact Check: The N&O Fact Check is false. The quoted budget figures used in the article are incorrect. Thus any subsequent claims are also false.
However aside from using incorrect budget figures, there are other problems. The N&O concludes Perdue’s claim from her news conference is false. However, it adds that the clarification provided by her staff is partly true. Really? I’d simply ask: How is the clarification part of Perdue’s claim? The claim states, “There are fewer dollars in the public school system that there’s ever been.” That’s a pretty simple statement. A quick review of budgets for the last fifteen years reveals Perdue’s claim to be false. Since when did it become fashionable for reporters to disregard statements at face value, ask staff to interpret what the Governor actually meant and then infuse a new meaning to the Governor’s actual words? The N&O’s actions contradict the claim it seeks to verify and make a mockery of reporting.
Civitas Fact Check Ruling: N&O Fact Check is wrong and needs lots of help — including a good fact checker. Any volunteers?