How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
|Who:||Michigan Education Association|
|What:||Web video “Repeal the Snyder cuts to our schools”|
|The Call:||Flagrant Foul|
Relevant text of the ad:
“By now, we’ve all heard the facts. Rich CEOs and corporate special interests got a $1.8 billion tax break, paid for by cuts to local schools. Gov. Rick Snyder and Republicans in Lansing gave a huge tax break to big banks, insurance companies, oil companies; rewarding CEOs with big bonuses and making it harder for our kids to compete for jobs. Snyder and Republicans in Lansing have forced cuts to music education, cuts to athletics, cuts to the arts. The Republican cuts have shut down swim programs, pushing local school districts underwater while Gov. Snyder has made sure CEOs are swimming in money. The Republican cuts are forcing overcrowded classrooms, forcing teachers to spend thousands of dollars out of pocket for basic school supplies like books and pencils, and making parents pick up the tab for everything from band to baseball. So when Republicans in Lansing come begging for your support this year, tell them you support our kids, not CEOs...”
This 81-second video by the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, employs slapstick and satire to take on GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and his role in funding K-12 education in Michigan. The MEA backs former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer in his bid to deny Snyder a second term as governor.
In the opening scene, children in band uniforms step to the door of what looks like a rich homeowner/business executive and hand him a paper with the words “Save Our School Band.” He shakes his head in disgust and hands it back. In another scene, three corporate fat cats – one in a cowboy hat – ride in a stretch limo, drinking champagne and laughing raucously. One blows cigar smoke out the window while two kids stand in front of the state capitol, one with a cardboard sign that reads “Our Schools Need $$$ Please Help.” In another, a man in a suit pitches a baseball at the head of a child batter while the voiceover talks about parents being forced to pay for their children’s baseball and band to make up for shortfalls in education funding.
Statements under review:
“By now, we’ve all heard the facts. Rich CEOs and corporate special interests got a $1.8 –billion tax break...Gov. Rick Snyder and Republicans in Lansing gave a huge tax break to big banks, insurance companies, oil companies, rewarding CEOs with big bonuses...”
In 2011, Snyder pushed through legislation that repealed the Michigan Business Tax and replaced it with a 6 percent corporate tax levied on businesses that file as “C” corporations under federal tax law, but exempted most small businesses. Analysis by the Senate Fiscal Committee calculated that it would amount to a $1.65 billion tax cut for business in 2012-2013.
Contrary to the video’s claim, the legislation did not reward CEOs with bonuses. Supporting documentation offered by the MEA refered to an AFL-CIO report that found CEO pay in Michigan in 2013 ranged as high as $24.5 million with an average pay of $5.6 million. But even if those numbers are accurate, they do not support the CEO bonus claim. It’s one thing to say that lower business taxes will likely improve the bottom line for CEO’s, it’s quite another to claim that the legislation itself “reward(ed) CEOs with big bonuses.”
“Snyder and Republicans in Lansing have forced cuts to music education, cuts to athletics, cuts to the arts. The Republican cuts have shut down swim programs, pushing local school districts underwater while Gov. Snyder has made sure CEOs are swimming in money. The Republican cuts are forcing overcrowded classrooms, forcing teachers to spend thousands of dollars out of pocket for basic school supplies like books and pencils, making parents pick up the tab for everything from band to baseball.”
Snyder's 2011-2012 K-12 school aid budget – his first – cut $930 million in school aid spending in comparison to the previous year, according to state Senate Fiscal Agency analysis. It cut the minimum foundation allowance by $470 per student. But offsetting that it also added one-time appropriations that totaled $455 million, including $154 million to eligible “best practices” districts and $288 million to offset teacher retirement costs. Since then, Snyder has increased funding for schools. In his January 2014 State of the State address, he calculated that per pupil spending had increased by $660 per pupil since he took office. Analysis by former House Fiscal Agency Director Mitch Bean tells a more complicated story.
In looking at total state spending per pupil and dividing it by the number of pupils, Bean found that it comes out to $6,884 in fiscal 2011-2012 and $7,545 in fiscal 2014 – a difference of $661. Of that, $439 was due to state spending and $222 to a decrease in the number of students, Bean found.
In many financially stressed districts, the state's foundation allowance has not matched revenue losses tied to sharp enrollment drops. Bean also noted that Snyder counts spending for teacher retirement costs – a total of $973 million over three years – in his calculations of per-pupil school aid. Not all of that makes its way into the classroom. Overall, the minimum effective foundation allowance has remained flat since Snyder took office in 2011, standing at $7,146 in fiscal 2010-2011 and $7,187 for 2014-2014.
The ad cites cuts in everything from music education, to athletics, as Grand Rapids Public Schools look at making parents pay for sports to help close a $13.5 million deficit. In Lansing, school officials cut 87 jobs – including elementary art, music and physical education teachers – to make up for a $9 million budget deficit. Ann Arbor Public Schools closed five middle school pools to help close a budget deficit. There are numerous reports of teachers paying out of their own pockets for school supplies. The video draws a cause-and-effect link between the Snyder tax changes and cuts to sports, band and other programs that local districts have made in tough fiscal times. Plenty of districts are running deficits and making cuts to programs as a result; but the causes of these cuts at the local level are many and complex and certainly involve factors beyond policies enacted by Snyder.
|The call:||Flagrant Foul|
It is not disputed that Snyder cut taxes for business while cutting funding for K-12 when he first took office, and plenty of critics have juxtaposed those choices to accuse the governor of putting CEOs before schoolchildren. Voters may differ on the fairness of that charge, but at least it is based on facts. That was not enough for the folks behind this video, however. This video flatly states that Snyder’s tax changes rewarded CEOs with “big bonuses.” That goes beyond hyperbole and into the realm of cynical, pandering fiction.
Snyder cut K-12 funding in his first school budget but has approved increases since then. It is also true that districts from Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor to Lansing have been forced to make sharp budget cuts because state aid has not offset rising expenses and revenue loss due to declining enrollment. That is as much an indictment of a school aid funding system that no longer works for districts that have suffered steep enrollment drops as it is the cuts stemming from Snyder's education priorities. A 2013 research brief shared with the State Board of Education warned that Michigan’s school funding system is in crisis 20 years after Proposal A reformed school funding. It found it was due to factors including declining enrollment, competition from charter and cyber schools, the growing cost of pensions and an overall decline in state funding over a decade.