PolitiFact Goes After WEAC on Layoff Data

In a report today, PolitiFact thought they caught WEAC being less than honest about the School Administrators report.  However, if you dig beneath the number, they’re far more honest than Walker was when he was caught lying about the same report.  So honest, in fact, I’d evaluate it as true.

Not all lies are equal and that’s why PolitiFact has a scale.  From True to Pants-on-Fire, their scale has room for variability.  That’s why I was surprised to see them declare the WEAC statement a full-on “false,” the same rating they gave to Governor Walker.  The statement PolitiFact judged false was this:

“Through a devastating state budget that cut $1.6 billion from Wisconsin public schools while at the same time tying the hands of local school boards from raising revenue to meet the needs of students, the governor has delivered a one-two punch to our schools,” Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said in a news release.

The release added: “FACT: 97 percent of school districts received less state aid this year than last, resulting in nearly 4,000 educator layoffs and larger class sizes.

What they zeroed in on was the 4,000 layoff claim.  Were there 4,000 layoffs?  Did 4,000 teachers face involuntary job separation?  The breakdown was as follows:

  • Retirements: 4,581
  • Layoffs: 1,428
  • Non-Renewals: 2,597
  • Total: 8,606 of which 4,025 were non-retirement eliminations

If you include layoffs and non-renewals as part of the same non-voluntary process, it’s easy to see how you get to 4,000.  But what does non-renewal mean?  According to the actual survey,

The survey question stated: “Listed below are four staff positions. Write the number of retirements, layoff s, non-renewals/resignations, and new hires that took place for the 2011-12 school year.”

The real challenge is that the survey question was ill-formed and the term “non-renewal” is not properly defined, though one could guess what it means in an environment where young teachers are subject to short-term contracts.

According to Wisconsin law, non-renewal is, in effect, a layoff.

(2) On or before March 15 of the school year during which a teacher holds a contract, the board by which the teacher is employed or an employee at the direction of the board shall give the teacher written notice of renewal or refusal to renew the teacher’s contract for the ensuing school year.

Even with the limitations of the survey instrument used by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, I question the PolitiFact evaluation of the WEAC statement as straight out “false.”  Non-renewals should certainly be considered “layoffs” for the purposes of the WEAC statement.  Considering PolitiFact assessed Governor Walker’s statement as “false” despite his complete elimination of a category of departed employees (4,581 retirees) makes his falsehood the more egregious.

To me, the WEAC statement is “true,” while Walker’s statement was “false.”

The WEAC layoff statement was not in the same category as the Walker lie considering that it was true.


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