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Newspapers allows ‘outrageous statements’

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Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012 1:30 am

The front-page story in the Aug. 28 Peoria Times, “Gray calls Prop 204 ‘pipeline to taxpayers’ pockets’” allowed a politician to make outrageous statements about Arizona schools and school funding.

Let’s look at Gray’s claims:

"In the past few years, we’ve given more money with no better results.” Actually, education funding has been cut in the past two years and Gray should know that. As reported in Arizona Fact Check, Dec. 2, 2011, per pupil state-appropriated funding declined from an estimated $4,901 per student in 2008 to $3,780 per student in 2012. Total funding is estimated to fall from $9,540 in fiscal 2008 to $8,620 in fiscal 2012. Figures came from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, according to the story.

“No better results?” Considering the spending cuts, it’s surprising the Arizona schools do as well as they do, but there actually have been gains over the past several years. It’s a testament to Arizona’s dedicated teachers, who are paid almost $10,000 below the national average and facing the largest class sizes in the nation, that schools are doing as well as they are.

“We are 21st in spending per student…” Who knows where Gray came up with this figure, as the story doesn’t say and evidently the reporter didn’t ask. His assertion that Arizona is 21st in per pupil spending contradicts every objective study that puts Arizona per pupil spending at or near the bottom. Here are some recent numbers that rank the states and the District of Columbia:

Census Bureau report: 49th (2010) $2,767 below the national average

Texas A&M study using comparable wage index: 48th (2010)

National Education Association: 51st (2011)

ALEC Report Card on Education: 50th (2008)

Reporting requires more than a recitation of statements made by a source. When I was in journalism school nearly 40 years ago, it was drilled into our heads that just because someone says something does not make the statement true. “Don’t just quote. Investigate!” is a principle that underlies solid journalism.

Where is the balance in the story? There are quotes from two far-right politicians, Gray, and state treasurer Doug Ducey. Did the reporter consider calling the Peoria Unified School District superintendent or officials in the state department of education? Since these are attacks are Proposition 204, why wasn’t Ann-Eve Pederson, the chairperson of the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative interviewed?

Let’s hope that voters will remember Gray’s duplicitous statements and realize that just because a candidate has an “R” next to his name on the ballot does not make him a qualified, effective, and honest official.

Joe Pfeiff

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