I can't contain my excitement. Thursday I wrote a post about Nevada's new vouchers-on-steroids law
which allows all Nevada students to set up Education Savings Accounts, unlike Arizona where Republicans have used the elephant's-trunk-under-the-tent-flap approach to allow only a small portion of Arizona students to set up ESAs, then expand the criteria until it reaches their goal of universal vouchers. In the post, I mentioned Matthew Ladner, who was the education guy at the Goldwater Institute and is now the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research at the organization Jeb Bush created, the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Those two groups were the main forces behind the Nevada bill.
Ladner, seeing his name in my post (I guess he loves Google Alerts as much as I do), chose to respond in the comments section! I'm not excited simply because Ladner is a national figure and a major practitioner of the dark arts of the "education reform"/privatization movement. It's because Ladner and I have history. We go way back. Some of the most fun I had when I wrote on Blog for Arizona was when he and I, along with a large group of informed commenters, argued in the comments sections of posts where I debunked the nonsense that came out of Ladner and G.I. (I generally used the heading "Fool's Gold" for those posts. Get it? GOLDwater? Fool's Gold?). The debates literally went on for dozens of comments and tens of thousands of words.
Good times. When in 2009 I said Ladner's claim that Arizona spent $9,700 per student on education, rather than the nationally accepted figure closer to $7,000, was absurd, we argued and argued and argued, until he wrote, in one of G.I.'s daily emails, that I was at least partly right.
Over the past couple weeks I have been debating progressive blogger David Safier and his readers about per pupil spending in Arizona public schools. It's been a good exchange, and I have learned things in the process.
Ladner learned things in the process? Be still my heart! Of course, he didn't exactly say he was wrong, but he wrote,
In the absence of reliable national numbers, I have pledged not to make claims about where Arizona ranks, even if the usual suspects continue to claim Arizona is ranked 49th.
I remember writing during our back-and-forth that even the numbers in the yearly Report Card put out by ALEC (few people knew about ALEC back then) agreed with my figure, not his, and he acknowledged I was correct about that. Then—this is priceless—Ladner took over the duties of writing the ALEC report cards, which now claim Arizona spends $8,806 per student. His report card also gives Arizona a B- grade because we "provide high-quality educational options to all students."
Ladner wrote a pamphlet touting the Florida educational miracle back when Jeb Bush was governor. I don't think it was meant as a job application, but I'm sure it didn't hurt when Jeb began his Foundation for Excellence in Education and was looking for staff. I debunked major parts of Ladner's assertions, which were based on selective use of data and questionable assertions of cause and effect, and we went round and round about that as well.
Ladner and I had wide ranging arguments—he loves to argue, and he's good at it—but my absolute favorite was when he insisted that school bus drivers are "bureaucrats." So are custodians and cafeteria workers, according to Ladner. Ah, what fun we had arguing that one. I even challenged G.I. to refute Ladner's "bus drivers are bureaucrats" statement, and I received a letter on Institute letterhead saying the Institute was sticking by Ladner's absurd assertion.
Matthew, please join us occasionally here at my current home on The Range, like you did Thursday. Sparring with you is always a delight, and I'm sure the wide assortment of commenters here, whose political views range more widely than they did on Blog for Arizona, would enjoy entering the discussions as well.