Conflicting Accounts

By David J. Hoff — October 19, 2004 1 min read

Chester E. Finn Jr. is an education analyst with knowledge and an opinion on just about any K-12 topic.

But, according to school finance advocates, he didn’t have his facts straight in recent courtroom testimony.

The Washington-based pundit appeared as an expert witness for New York state in a special hearing in front of the court-appointed advisers who will recommend a remedy in the state’s long-running school finance case.

Chester E. Finn Jr.

Shortly after Mr. Finn’s Oct. 1 testimony, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity posted an account of it on its Web site. “State’s ‘Expert’ Witness Proves He’s No Expert on New York Schools,” read the headline.

According to the summary, Mr. Finn failed to understand basic facts about the state’s study estimating the funding needed to comply with a 2003 court decision ordering the state to raise spending in New York City. He also failed to defend specific methodological approaches used in the state study conducted by the New York City-based Standard & Poor’s financial-analysis firm, the account said.

During cross-examination by a CFE lawyer, the account said, “it became apparent that Dr. Finn had neither thoroughly examined the state’s proposal nor the S&P study as the state’s lawyers claimed.”

Mr. Finn says the group’s version is an unfair depiction of his testimony. The state attorney general’s office, he said, asked him to explain how the ultimate resolution to the finance case would be affected by the accountability measures in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

For almost half his time on the stand, Mr. Finn said, he answered questions about those issues posed by the three “special masters” appointed by a Manhattan trial-court judge. (“As Lawmakers Stall, N.Y. School Aid Case Gets ‘Special Masters,’” Aug. 11, 2004.)

“They were thoughtful questions,” said Mr. Finn, who is the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington think tank that supports charter schools, public school accountability, and vouchers. “They were trying to understand things.”

He said that while the CFE lawyer tried to undermine his credibility, that effort wasn’t as successful as the group’s account makes it seem.

“I wasn’t supposed to be an authority on school finance, and I wasn’t there to get into the weeds of the methodology” of the funding studies, Mr. Finn said in an interview last week. “But that’s what the CFE attorney wanted to do.”

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