Four Pinocchios for Jon Stewart on Education Spending

HBO’s John Oliver isn’t the only cable news comedian getting heat for recent comments about education. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart recently got dinged in the Washington Post for wildly overstating the amount of funding going to build schools in Afghanistan that could otherwise be better spent closer to home (ie, in Baltimore).

As you may recall, last week during the height of the Baltimore unrest, Stewart quipped “If we are spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, we can’t, you know, put a little taste Baltimore’s way. It’s crazy.”

See the video below:

It was a great line, no doubt. I shared it out when I first heard it. But apparently it’s enormously inaccurate and also part of a common problem for the American public in which we all overestimate US spending on foreign aid. (It’s not 25 percent of the federal budget, as American apparently think, but rather 1 percent.) And of course there’s no direct relationship between foreign aid and domestic spending on schools.  Congress could cut foreign aid and spend the money on windmills or personal drones.

And so, mixing reluctance with glee, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker had to step in: “Nope, Jon Stewart, $1 trillion wasn’t spent on Afghanistan schools at the expense of Baltimore.”According to the Post, “in 2012 and 2013, the total spent on education in Afghanistan was $128.6 million and $115.1 million, respectively.” Federal spending on Baltimore schools was $184.8 million in 2012 and $169.3 million in 2013.

So Baltimore is already getting more than schools in Afghanistan. And Afghanistan is getting nowhere near $1 trillion for education. And for that, Stewart got the dreaded Four Pinocchios (otherwise known as having spouted a Whopper).

Now if someone could only get the Fact Checker to weigh in on that John Oliver segment on testing.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.