Foul on Snyder ad for portrayal of Schauer school vote

How we make the call

Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts

Who:Rick Snyder for Governor
What:“Linda,” 30-second ad
The call:Regular Foul

Relevant text:

“School funding is always tough. But at least we’re not cutting state education funding like Granholm and Schauer did. Governor Snyder has increased K-12 state funding every year he’s been in office, in spite of what you’ve heard. Increased spending. And he even shored up teachers’ pensions. I taught for 31 years. I trust the direction Governor Snyder is taking in education.”

The 30-second TV ad by the campaign for incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Snyder is getting as much notice for who's in the ad as its content. In it, retired school teacher Linda Thaler attacks Mark Schauer, the Democratic candidate for governor, for education funding cuts while he was in the state Senate. Why the fuss over Thaler? She happens to be Snyder's next-door neighbor at his Gun Lake vacation home south of Grand Rapids. Lansing news service MIRS also reports that Thaler ran for Republican precinct delegate. Snyder spokesperson Emily Benavides told MIRS: “She is a supporter like any other.”

The ad continues the fight over a over a pivotal, seemingly interminable issue in the race for governor: Which candidate is most committed to improving Michigan’s struggling K-12 educational system? The debate over whether Gov. Snyder raised or lowered education funding in his first year in office has turned into math-class-for-politicos, as each side bends numbers to suit its case.

And now we have dueling teachers.

Schauer, a former congressman and state senator, has taken shots at Snyder for cuts to education during Snyder’s first year in office while giving a tax breaks to business. The Democratic Governors Association ran a TV ad featuring Royal Oak school teacher Kim Stanley attacking Snyder for cutting “a billion dollars” from education (Truth Squad called a foul on that attack, too).

Now it's Snyder's turn. Thaler speaks to the camera from a living room setting, with a script that tries to turn the tables on Schauer.

Statements under review:

“School funding is always tough. But at least we’re not cutting state education funding like Granholm and Schauer did.”

The ad cites Schauer's 2003 vote as a state senator on a measure aimed at closing an expected $350 million shortfall in the school aid fund. It passed by a 38-0 margin. According to an analysis by the House Fiscal Agency, the measure added $152 million in new tax and lottery revenue for school aid funding. Then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a separate executive order that cut the education budget by roughly $100 per student. Analysis at the time by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Midland-based conservative think tank, described it as part of a deal struck between Granholm and GOP Sen. Majority Leader Ken Sikkema.

Statements under review:

“Governor Snyder has increased K-12 state funding every year he’s been in office, in spite of what you’ve heard. Increased spending. And he even shored up teachers’ pensions.”

Strap on your green eyeshades. Schauer has repeatedly asserted that Snyder cut spending in 2011-2012 for K-12 schools and higher education by more than $1 billion, citing analysis by the Senate Fiscal Agency. It includes a $930 million cut for K-12 schools, $12 million for community colleges and $216 million for higher education. The measure included a $470 cut in per pupil funding. But that calculation did not include $154 million to allocate $100 per pupil for eligible “best practices” school districts and $288 million to support the teacher pension fund – an obligation that districts would have otherwise been required to meet. It also does not account for the loss of more than $500 million in federal stimulus funds that had been available in the previous budget when Granholm was still in office. The state ended up spending $12.75 billion in school funding in Snyder’s first budget, compared with $12.98 billion the year before.

The Snyder camp cites a chart from the Department of Technology, Management and Budget that shows state funding for K-12 education has increased from $10.8 billion in fiscal 2011-2012 – his first school budget – to $11.7 billion for fiscal 2014-2015. In the past three years, Snyder has pumped more than $970 million into districts’ teacher retirement obligations. But the minimum effective foundation allowance has remained relatively flat since Snyder took office in 2011, standing at $7,146 in fiscal 2010-2011 and $7,187 for 2014-2015.

The call:Regular Foul

The ad overreaches when it accuses Schauer of “cutting state education,” imparting blame to him for a per pupil funding cut that was in fact an executive order signed by the governor. The part of the package that he and his Senate colleagues approved actually added money for schools, part of a larger deal (agreed upon by both political parties) to close a sizable school aid funding gap.

It is true that K-12 spending has increased every year since Snyder's first K-12 budget. But it’s also true that K-12 funding in Snyder’s first budget fell from from the previous year, which contradicts Thaler’s statement that “at least we’re not cutting state education funding.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Mike R
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 9:18am
Is that the best Snyder can do: a scary-looking retired teacher who's his neighbor? Not a teacher who's still actually teaching? You mean, his PR machine couldn't find even one currently employed teacher to support him on camera? Gee, why would that be? Maybe it's because... (wait for it, here comes the shocker)...THERE ARE NONE. Which is probably the single most telling indictment of Snyder's manipulations of the education budget by those in the best position to evaluate their effects.
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 10:40am
I wonder if her pension got taxed and is she fine with that? After shooting this ad im sure she got in her Honda and drove to her beautiful home........
Char L
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 11:13am
Thank you Bridge writers! While distortion may be allowed under the right to free speech, it is most offensive to me when used by those who wish to lead us politically. Distortion allows the candidate or the supporting "pack" (pun intended) to hide in plain sight, a sales tactic that, unfortunately, works so well.
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 11:48am
I will remember in NOVEMBER!
Ken K in Zeeland
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 2:12pm
The cottages where they are neighbors are on Gun Lake where waterfront cottages start at $500 a running foot of waterfront! That's for a tear down! I'm a retired teacher and taught in a neighboring school district. Thornapple Kellogg (Middleville) where she taught is similar to the district I taught in right next door, and I could never afford a cottage where Thaler's cottage is located. She taught one year more than is required to get a "full" pension and hasn't taught for a number of years. Colleagues from TK report that Thaler had retired before Snyder took office and was not around for the slashing and staff demoralization that resulted from the cuts and lack of support that Public Schools have been subjected to under the Republican Controlled State Government we now have. The distortions in this ad are deliberate lies. Remember that Hitler said a big lie repeated enough becomes the truth for the common man.
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 6:07pm
The Bridge article also states the Schaeur's ad is also false. No one wins!
Lee Newton
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 10:15pm
500 per foot isn't bad. Some lots on Lake Michigan are $10,000 per waterfront foot, and that's for vacant land.
Fri, 10/03/2014 - 3:11pm
You mean like "if you like your plan, you can keep it"? Is that the kind of lie you're talking about?
Gary J in Owosso
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 8:41pm
A neighbor he throws out a neighbor??? He's one smug nerd alright! Any candidate or party that consistently attaches appropriations on bills passed by rubber stamp government to advance it's agenda by BLATANTLY taking the ability to vote away from the people! That is modern Fascism! The act of passing off a neighbor as a teacher supporter is nothing, the fact that getting caught & everyone pretty much knows it now... Well this proves he's not a very smart nerd!
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 9:07pm
Things that make you say hmmmm?.....a retired teacher that can have a cottage on Gun Lake.
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 11:54pm
Wonder what her husband does... she certainly couldn't afford a summer home on Gun Lake on a teacher's salary! So sad that she just doesn't really "get" how hard it is to be a single income parent, trying to just get by.
Thu, 10/02/2014 - 1:11am
She also retired years ago and still has a pension and is probably old enough that it isn't taxed. She rpobably had a well off husband and hasn't stepped foot in a school in decades.