Ghost in the machine.

1927.  An accident begins one of the greatest and long lasting pranks in history.  It began when William “Ed” Smith received his application to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology.  Also know at GA Tech, GT, or simply the North Avenue Trade School.  Thanks to a strange twist of fate, Ed received two applications instead of one.  Being a jokester, Ed promptly filled out both applications, one for himself and one for a fictional person, George P. Burdell.

*At GT, physics is like cowbell.  Always need more.

At first, Ed was going to enroll his high school principal George P. Butler, a staunch UGA (sic) graduate, but got cold feet and wrote Burdell as the last name.  George P. Burdell was accepted to GT and Ed enrolled him in the same classes.  Throughout his career at Tech, Ed would turn in two homework assignments, take two tests, and in 1930, both Ed and George P. Burdell graduated.

The amazing feet in all this, is Ed doing everything twice.  Anyone familiar with Ma Tech knows the impossibility of this accomplishment.

*The Shaft

Since then, George P. Burdell has shown up all over the place. He was credited with 12 bombing missions over Europe in World War II.  He was leading the Time Man of the Year vote in 2001, until Time magazine took his name off the list.

George P. Burdell is a regular fixture on class rolls at GT.  I can tell you from personal experience the enjoyment of having a first time professor read through the class roll on the first day only to hear them read out George P. Burdell.  The quiet chuckle from the class until someone responds “here.”  In 1969, GT went to all computerized registration and thought George P. Burdell was a thing of the past. Of course he was enrolled in every class at the Institute.  Over 3,000 credit hours.  The Institute put in fail safe methods only to see George P. Burdell enroll in every class again in 1975 and 1980.

George P. Burdell served on the Board of Directors for Mad Magazine from 1969 to 1981, and was recently listed as a Production Assistant for the TV show, South Park.  I still remember fondly, receiving a rebate check and having it signed by George P. Burdell. He has his own Facebook page and Twitter account.  For all intents and purposes, George P. Burdell is a living, real human being.

Apparently he also went to school in Arizona. But I will get to that in a minute.

Since the beginning of time, the first words out of any public educator’s mouth is, “more funding.”  I don’t care what the question is, the answer is more funding. I remember growing up and hearing the argument that teachers are not paid enough. That local school systems need more money to attract good teachers. To which my young mind would question, “If we need money to attract good teachers, then the teachers we have must be bad.” Following a chain of logic only understood by a unioned government worker, the answer was always, “No, being paid more will make our teachers better.”

I still don’t understand that.  You are either a good teacher or not.  The amount of money you earn should not dictate the quality of job you perform.  But anyway…

So schools are always complaining about needing more money. In 1980, the Department of Education spent $14 billion.  Our president has requested $69 billion to spend in 2013. That is a 490% increase in spending over the last 32 years. If the price of milk followed the same curve, a gallon would cost $7.88.

*actual milk (not to scale)

We have thrown money at education.  Copious amounts.  Teacher student ratios have dropped.  Technology in the classroom has increased.  Teacher salaries have all gone up. Teacher’s Union benefits have skyrocketed. Every single category of education has gotten better, save one….  Student scores.  We have spared no expense when it comes to education spending and still our students are stupid.  Really, really, really stupid.

At best, American students are average. Globally, the US of A ranks 17th on the OECD PISA rankings. Behind Poland.

In Other News of the Ironic, jokes in Warsaw begin, “An American locked her keys in the car…”

*hair color changed to protect her identity

Let me get this straight…  We increase spending 490% and still can only muster average. Of course if you are a government employee, then average is better than you can hope.

At this point, you are ready for the big reveal on government waste.  This is where we go back to Arizona and tie together George P. Burdell and education spending.  You see, George P. Burdell was nothing more than a ghost that frequents the GA Tech campus. And apparently the state of Arizona has their own George P. Burdell.  Except they have 13,500.

Those ghosts cost Arizona taxpayers $125 million in 2009-2010.

Yep.  Due to the record keeping rules in Arizona, $125 million was spent on students that don’t exist.  It’s like this….  When a new student shows up at school, the district is able to request funds in near real time. Yet when a student leaves a school, they have a year to report the departure.

So here’s what happens. George P. Burdell is enrolled at Wile E. Coyote Primary School in Acme County School District.  Wile E. Coyote Primary School receives money from the state to pay for George’s education.  Makes sense.  During the year, a string of incidents involving rockets, roller skates, and dynamite forces George P. Burdell to transfer to The Roadrunner Academy, also of Acme County.  The Roadrunner Academy informs the state immediately of George’s attendance and receives funds.  Meanwhile, Wile E. Coyote Primary School does not inform the state and continues to receive funds.  Therefore Acme County School District is being paid twice for the same student.

This happened 13,500 for a grand total of $125 million in over payments. Theoretically, every student in a school can transfer out the first day of school, and the school would continue to receive full funding for an empty school.

So next time you hear about how we have to increase sales tax for the children, remember the 13,500 that Arizona paid for that don’t exist…  Besides, we’ve thrown enough money, when will we see results? How about giving families school choice? How about more charter schools?  How about banning teachers unions. How about focusing on the quality of education and not worrying about hurting feelings and celebrating each student and their own skills and talents.

*An “A” gets you ice cream.

I like at the bottom of the page, the author declares the program a success.  Not because of what it does for the students, but the fact that the administration worked together with the staff.

Life has winners and losers.  In the immortal words of the great philosopher Dr. Denis Leary, “Life sucks.  Get a *#$%ing helmet.”

*not a real doctor

So next time you hear about some teacher’s union crying about more money, just ask them what they did with the $125 million they were paid for students that don’t exist.

Besides, what would you do with $125 million?

-author’s notes: Police references intentionally omitted