News Story

Creative Arts: Exaggerated Teacher Union Claims Not Supported By The Facts

Some teachers were working at poverty level. Others could be fired because they were pregnant and unmarried, or they were gay. And students were sitting on the floor without any desks.

Those are some of the charges made by teachers’ union officials since Gov. Rick Snyder took office and transformed the face of public education in Michigan.

But those charges and more were either untrue or highly unlikely to occur in what has turned into a two-year rhetoric campaign by teachers and the unions.

Michigan Education Association Spokesman Doug Pratt told MLive that the MEA has been targeted by the Republican Party that "doesn't value public education and the middle class..."

Union leaders and some teachers, however, have made a series of comments that have warranted a closer look.

In May 2010, Warren Education Association Executive Director Jennifer Miller was quoted at a MEA rally by a newspaper saying that there were “kids on the floor without any desks.” After Miller’s comments were published, School Board Member Brendan Wagner and Brian Walmsley, the district’s chief economic officer, said they both were not aware of that happening in the district.

Ric Hogerheide, an MEA UniServe Director, claimed that first-year teachers in the Lansing School District were paid below the poverty line. A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree earned $35,741 in 2009-10. That teacher would be below the U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty level if the teacher had a family of eight.

In March 2011, the MEA sent a letter asking its members to give it the authority to call for a “work stoppage.” Teacher strikes in Michigan are illegal.

When Snyder’s cuts were released, the MEA exaggerated their costs by almost twice as much. The MEA’s Renaye Baker sent an email to union members claiming Snyder’s cuts were at $700-per pupil. Snyder had proposed a $300 per-pupil reduction and extended another $170 per-pupil cut made last year that federal dollars made up.

Michael Van Beek, education policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said that Baker probably included increased mandatory pension contributions into that $700-per-pupil figure, something Snyder had nothing to do with.

Some teachers wrote to the newspapers to criticize Gov. Snyder on his budget cuts.

Krista Weber, an elementary teacher at Hemmeter Elementary School in the Saginaw Township School District wrote to the Saginaw News and complained she put her “master’s degree to work dusting and vacuuming” her own room.

She said in the letter she took out a home equity loan to finance her “continuing education.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.