That's right folks! Gail Collins (the Gail Collins who writes for the New York Times) made an error in her recent column on Scott Walker. Of course, you probably already knew based on the thunder of high fives and champagne-cork-popping from the rightwing blogosphere.
I'm not one to pile on, but this really is huge.
Collins re-capped what others, myself included, had previously pointed out: That the teacher of the year in Walker's anecdote wasn't really “the teacher of the year" and that the budget cuts to education, which Walker adores, are the root cause of such layoffs.
But this is where Collins went off the deep end. She offhandedly commented that the lay-off of Walker's phony "teacher of the year" was because of Scott Walker's budget cuts and (here’s the ah-ha!) Scott Walker wasn't even Governor of Wisconsin when the teacher got laid off!
OK, make no mistake that this was an error that Collins regrets (and quickly corrected), but in the overall scheme of things, the error is somewhat irrelevant: The larger point she was making was that it is silly to blame unions for layoffs that come from unexpected budget cuts, which Walker has proven time and again that he loves. Yes, Scott Walker wasn't governor at the time the budget cuts were made, but considering he made the biggest cut to education in Wisconsin history right after he became governor, quibbling on this point is silly. Make no mistake, many very good Wisconsin teachers were laid off soon after Walker took office—just not that one.
All of this is a bit like correcting someone regarding which play Lincoln was watching at the Ford Theater. The larger issue that seems to be missed on these folks is that Walker is pathologically truth-challenged and this is a classic example of one of his multi-layered whoppers.
For those of you who have forgotten just how over the top Scott Walker's teacher of the year story was, here's a short primer from my earlier piece on the topic:
This past weekend in Iowa, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rolled out one his favorite talking points: The story of how Wisconsin's 2010 "outstanding teacher of the year" winner Megan Sampson got laid off days after receiving the award and how his "reforms" prevent that from ever happening again.
This would be a compelling true if it were true, but it’s mostly fiction.
Yes, Sampson did get an award in 2010, but it wasn't for "outstanding teacher of the year" as Walker claims. Sampson was awarded something called the Nancy Hoefs Memorial Award, which is given by a small group called the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English (WCTE) for "an outstanding first-year teacher of the English language arts." In order to be considered for the award, a first year English teacher must apply for it by writing a cover letter and including two letters of recommendation.
In other words, of the approximately 60,000 teachers in Wisconsin, when it comes to those who may qualify for the award, we're talking only about English teachers, who also happen to be a member of this group and who also are a first year teacher. According to the WCTE's David Roloff, who is in charge of this award, each year only about two to ten people across the entire state actually apply for the award.
Most importantly, Walker's central premise with this story is that because of the big, bad seniority layoff system, a "teacher of the year" was tossed out in favor of a teacher who may have more seniority, but was clearly inferior—after all, those more senior teachers didn't win the teacher of the year, did they? However, because this award only goes to first-year English teachers, those teachers with more seniority would necessarily have never been considered for this obscure award in the first place!
Plus, as others have reported, while Sampson was indeed given a layoff notice during the summer when school wasn't in session, she was also notified a few weeks later that she had been removed from layoff status. In other words, Megan Sampson never lost a day of work from being laid off and therefore was never really laid off.
Yeah, yeah, yeah—but isn't Walker's larger point that the bad old days of "last in, first out" layoff policies are dead and gone because of his reforms? No. Before Act 10, nothing required school districts to put "last in, first out" in their contracts with unions, and now, after Act 10, there is still nothing that prohibits school districts from adopting "last in, first out" policies—in fact, many still do have that policy in place.
It’s also not as if teachers are hired or laid off at random, anyway. School administrators have always had 100 percent of the power to hire whomever they please. Layoffs are somewhat rare and usually come as a result of either a school's poor planning or sudden, unforeseen budget cuts. In the case of 2010, many schools did have to lay off some teachers, but it was because of sudden budget cuts caused by The Great Recession, which was created by Scott Walker's idol, President George W. Bush.
Speaking of Dubya, remember how he was the going to be the first "CEO President," because we need to run government like a business? Well, many businesses (union and non-union) have policies of last in, first out. Why? Because it is an inherently fair policy and better for company morale. Plus, there is argument to be made that a twenty-two-year-old is much more likely to find another job right away, compared to a fifty-two-year-old counterpart, and it is better for the overall economy to offer older workers more job protection in exchange for their loyalty.
The bottom line is that Walker's solution (union-busting) was always a solution in search of a problem that never existed. Although Walker would have you believe that the Wisconsin teacher unions were forcing schools to stockpile bad teachers, survey after survey has repeatedly belied this assertion and clearly demonstrated that the vast majority of Wisconsin parents are happy with their local public school teachers.
The irony of Walker telling an egregiously erroneous story, getting called out for it by a New York Times columnist, and then the rightwing blogosphere losing their minds over a minor error in the column about Walker's egregious error, is pretty rich.
But, not surprising.
Jud Lounsbury is a political reporter based in Madison, Wisconsin. Previously, Lounsbury served as a press secretary for several politicians and organizations, including Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin, and Al Gore's Iowa campaign.