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    Two Visions of America by Don Jans

    Factchecking The Factcheckers

    By Will Swaim

    Among the most diabolical innovations of late-twentieth century newspapering was the so-called “factcheck.” Factchecking pretends that reporters are godlike — objective, neutral, free of bias. That itself is a fact that needs checking.

    Take the once-esteemed Associated Press and its recent “factcheck” of a statement by the Florida GOP — and the connection of that “factcheck” to education in California.

    The story begins with this early September tweet from the Florida Republican Party: “When Governor DeSantis took office, Florida ranked 26th in the nation for teacher pay. Today we are 9th. Every year he fights to ensure Florida teachers get the support and funding they need.”

    A few days later, on September 16, AP reporter Ali Swenson donned a surgeon’s scrubs and gloves to examine that claim. She determined that the Florida GOP’s claim was “false.”

    Swenson arrived at this conclusion after examining “national salary data” which, Swenson says, “contradicts [the party’s] numbers.” But Swenson admits her numbers come from “the National Center for Education Statistics” which, along with several other online sources, “get their salary information from the NEA, the nation’s largest teacher’s union, which compiles most of its data from state education departments.”

    Quoting Staci Maiers, an NEA spokesperson, Swenson says the NEA data shows that Florida “ranked 48th in the 2020-2021 school year, giving teachers an average of $51,009. The state is estimated to continue to rank 48th for the 2021-2022 school year.”

    Ranking 48th is a far cry from ranking 9th. And the salary implications of that ranking would seem to be bad for Florida teachers. The same NEA report shows that California teachers earned a whopping $84,531, making them No. 2 in the nation, just behind New York.

    Now, let’s factcheck the factchecker.

    First, asking the NEA what it thinks of Florida teacher salaries is a little like asking Vladimir Putin what he thinks of Ukraine.

    Second, rating teacher pay is, in fact, more complicated than the AP suggests — certainly more difficult than asking a propaganda unit of the teachers union what it thinks.

    First, you have to examine the cost of living. In that case, you’d find Florida teacher salaries go much farther than California teacher salaries. That cost-of-living metric is missing entirely from the AP’s “factcheck.” The overall cost of living in Florida is 43 percent less than in California. In the key category of housing, Florida is a remarkable 72 percent less expensive than California. This is largely a function of government regulation and taxes.

    Nor does the NEA report note that California teacher pay does not include the cost of benefits like pensions and retiree healthcare — costs that account for some of the state’s record $1.6 trillion in debt. Principle and interest payments on benefits increasingly limit what local governments and districts can spend for basic government services — services like education.

    If you raise the salaries and increase the benefits of teachers and other government employees, you raise taxes for everybody. And because people don’t like to pay California taxes, some of them leave our state — moving to low-tax, reasonably regulated places like Florida. That phenomenon is so common that it has a name: The California exodus.

    AP’s hatchet job suggests that their story selection and NEA sourcing have something to do with the fact that AP is actually a partisan organization, looking to provide comfort to those who fear DeSantis as the greatest threat to Democrats in the 2024 presidential campaign. You don’t have to love Ron DeSantis to find this kind of “reporting” outrageous.

    The true ranking of teacher salaries ought to include this consideration: what did taxpayers get for their money? By most measures of student achievement (here and here, for example), Florida ranks near the middle of the states. California ranks dead last.

    Read the full article by CPC president Will Swaim.



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