The Janesville Gazette publishes Politifact editorials regularly in their Sunday edition that I usually totally ignore, but a personal jab in the title by the newspaper at a state legislator caught my eye. As you probably know, I'm not a big fan of Politifact to begin with.
Politifact's title to the story is "Rep. Sondy Pope says most public school students get less state money than private school students," which by the way they rate as "Half-True."
The Gazette no doubt reserves the right to title stories as they see fit. They re-title it to "Pope needs to go back to school on student-funding claim." It's like, where did THAT come from? I can see suggesting someone go back to school on a "false" or a "pants-on-fire" rating. But a half true? So I decided to read the full story and not only was it amusing, it turns out that Rep. Pope was speaking far greater truth than the titlers wanted to give her.
"The vast majority of our public school students are receiving less state support than their private voucher peers."
Politifact did their usual digging and found out that indeed yes, 81 percent of Wisconsin's public school districts "received less in general state aid per-pupil than the $6,442 amount guaranteed to choice schools if they spend that much." That's exact in quotes, but I highlighted keywords of the statement because according to the story, it matches her assertions that her statement is strictly directed at the state aid portion of school funding. Since state legislators hold no authority over the funding school levies from local property taxes, that just about aces it for her claim.
But Politifact dug a little deeper and to be frank, that's the way it should be.
However, after admitting that researchers have a difficult time with funding comparisons between the two types of schools, Politifact decides to reconstruct their investigation and change Pope's statement into something entirely different. Now the question is no longer only about state aid between the schools, but all the funding they could find including local property taxes and "categorical aid."
If you included that categorical funding, fewer public districts would fall below the $6,442 level. About 67 percent of public districts -- not the claimed more than 80 percent -- are below the choice aid level...
Okay, 67 percent might not equate with "vast majority," but it's still a majority and it took a sideshow by Politifact to bring it down.
Later in the article, they cut down the percentage even further. But the real question should not be about trying to discredit what percent defines another person's "vast majority." It should be asking why ANY percent of public school districts are getting less than private schools in state aid in the first place.
It gets even better when Politifact explains how school funding works in voucher districts. They used Milwaukee and Racine as examples...THIS IS GOLD.
Here's how it works:
The state offsets a big part of its costs by reducing general aid to Milwaukee and Racine, and in turns allows them to make up the difference by raising local property taxes. MPS officials say, given the size of the reduction, they are compelled to raise the tax to protect education.
This property tax component is fiercely debated, because Milwaukee Public Schools levies for those funds but by law is not allowed to count those students for purposes of the state’s aid formula. The effect is a shift onto Milwaukee property taxpayers due to the lost state aid.
Don't stop ...keep going. But wow..."allows" them to make up the difference by raising local property taxes. Got that Beloit, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Sheboygan, Superior, Waukesha, and West Allis-West Milwaukee school districts? YOU ARE NEXT. If it's any consolation any one of us can substitute our own school district in place of MKE or Racine in the above paragraphs if Walker gets his way.
It is that argument Politifact uses to bring Pope's vast majority percentage down to 33% of public school districts getting shortchanged, but only after school districts effected by vouchers raise taxes on themselves to restore the funding! That is the other half of Politifact's reasoning to give Pope's statement a "Half True?" Good grief!! But the best is saved for last as we return to Politifact's conclusion on Pope's statement.
But the narrow way she sets up the comparison is both a virtue and a vice, creating a technically accurate statement that leaves too little room for important details necessary to explain such a complex comparison.
We rate her claim Half True.
What they seem to be complaining about is that she gave herself very little room - to be wrong - by making a narrow yet accurate statement. Pope basically said the glass is half full. They fill it to the top in an attempt to prove she's half wrong.
Then there's the Gazette's title. Just crazy.
ADDITIONAL: More tax shifts coming our way
Democurmudgeon - Freeloading Businesses Shift Tax Burden to Wisconsinites