Math for Democracy

I surrender.

I’ve been trying to keep this blog politics free, or at least minimize the politics:  when I talked about the March Across the Hudson, I focused on estimating the crowd size and not on the reasons behind it.

I’m still going to minimize the politics.  But it’s clear that we’re heading towards a major crisis.  I’m not talking about the person in the White House, or Russian interference, or anything that minor.  I’m talking about the denial of basic fact-finding.

You’ve heard the term “fake news.”  The problem is that most Americans get their information from one or two sources, which they don’t verify.  If those sources are unreliable, then they’re going to get a warped view of the world.  So I have a new mantra:

Five minutes a day.

Take five minutes a day to track down a fact.  You might start with the news story, but don’t end with it.  Who did they interview?  If they’re reporting on a piece of research, track down the original article and check out the legitimacy of the publisher.  If they’re reporting on an incident, go to the local newspapers and see what their coverage is.  If they’re talking about waste in government spending, go to and see how your money is spent.

So let’s talk about that.  One of the promises of the new administration is to drastically curtail the U.S. Department of Education, returning control of schools to the states. Sounds good, right?  But go to to see how the Department of Education actually spends your money.  Note that I’m giving you the source, so you should feel free to check my claims.   (A guaranteed way to identify something as “not a fact” is that lack of a source:  If there’s no source, it’s not a fact.  Keep in mind this does not work in reverse:  you can cite a source and still spew non-facts)

Most federal agencies suck in a lot of taxpayer dollars…and then shovel them back to the states in the form of grants.  Find the government department you’re interested in, then download the grants database: this tells you who they’ve given money to, and how much.  You can import it into Excel, or download it as a CSV and  use your own spreadsheet software.  Then the fun begins…

You can sort the grants by any category you want.  The cost of the elected President’s recent trips to Mar-a-Lago have been in the news:  current estimates for the three weekend trips (out of five weekends in office) are around $12 million, so here’s a few grants made by the Department of Education that are around this much.  I’ve deliberately chosen programs that benefits states where Trump support was very strong:  yes, New York, California, and other states get money from the Department of Education, so of course we’re concerned…the point is that states that supported Trump need to be even more concerned, because here are some of the things they’re going to lose:

  • Nevada: $9,928,139 for Vocational Rehabilitation training. Nevada has received almost $200 million in grants from the Department of Education since January 1, 2016.
  • Kansas: $10,669,790 for Department for Children and Families for Vocational Rehabilitation training. Kansas has received more than $210 million in grants since January 1, 2016.
  • Texas: $11,187,178 to Bexar County Texas for “Impact Aid.” The army base Fort Sam Houston occupies a good part of Bexar County, and this land can’t be taxed, impacting the county’s ability to pay for schools. That’s money local taxpayers don’t have to pay.   The Department of Education has given more than $600 million in Impact Aid grants since October 2016, reducing tax burdens around the country.

Now for some math.  On a dollar basis, California, Texas, and New York have received the most from the Department of Education.  But they’re also the biggest states in the country.  An easily googlable fact is the population of these states; if you divide how much each states gets by its population, you obtain a per capita figure.

These are interesting.  A few more states that stand to lose big if Trump eliminates the Department of Education:

  • Alabama: $15,912,537 for preschool programs. Alabama received more than $400 million in grants. On a per person basis, that’s 26% more than Connecticut gets.
  • Louisiana: $9,177,379 for preschool education programs. Louisiana has received nearly $500 million in grants. On a per-person basis, that 37% more than California receives.
  • West Virginia: $9,828,491 for vocational and rehabilitation services. West Virginia has received more than $160 million from the Department of Education. On a per person basis, that’s 50% more than Massachusetts.



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