You know what erodes the public’s trust? #FakeNews.
You know which side of the political aisle it gets generated on?
I was typing away doing my actual job this afternoon, trying to arrange actual facts in a news story discerning readers might or might not end up drawing some conclusions about when a tweet caught my eye. Sent out by A Better Minnesota, it concerned today’s not-very-surprising, blast-from-the-past entrant into the state’s gubernatorial race, Tim Pawlenty, and K-12 education.
“As #mngov, @TimPawlenty short changed out kids by ‘borrowing’ $2 billion dollars in funding from schools to cover up his $6.2 billion budget deficit, leading to thousands of teacher layoffs,” it said. “We need a gov that values our children’s future. #MeetPawlenty.”
There was a link, and a graphic that said, “Tim Pawlenty laid off thousands of teachers, MinnPost, 8.27.10.”
I finished my actual work before I called my personal archival droid up from the basement to request some intel. Teacher layoffs and ed finance was my MinnPost beat, circa 2010, and I was pretty sure I never typed those words.
I mean, I remember layoffs and I remember lots of things Pawlenty did in his first stint in the governor’s mansion that can fairly be classified as bad for schools. And I remember a recession that was bad for schools, families and pretty much everyone else.
But the tweet as written? No.
The embedded link went not to anything published on August 27, 2010, but to a June 2009 opinion piece written by John Fitzgerald and reprinted from Minnesota 2020. A think tank funded in large part by labor and dedicated to “smart messaging strategies,” Minnesota 2020 ceased operations in 2014. Its archives live on, according to a note at its web address, thanks to the AFL-CIO.
Spender and recipient of rivers of dark money, Alliance for a Better Minnesota is also funded by labor. And by Dayton’s former wife and campaign supporter, Alida Messenger.
The piece decried Pawlenty’s decision to balance the 2009 budget by shifting payments of state aid into future years, forcing school districts to borrow to cover costs. But ideological as it was, it did not even neatly substantiate the tweet.
“The news was grim even before Pawlenty’s announcement,” it stated. “Schools were cutting budgets and laying off employees across the state.”
A little closer to my recollection but still incomplete.
When the interwebs coughed up the August 2010 piece it did indeed carry my byline, but still no proof point. No, the short story was about Pawlenty’s reversal on the acceptance of stimulus funding from the Obama Administration, desperately needed but politically unpalatable to T-Paw’s partisans. (Who on this one included Michele Bachmann. Just sayin’.)
“After weeks of gubernatorial grumbling, the Minnesota Department of Education formally applied today for $167 million in federal education stimulus funding,” I reported. “The state had until Sept. 9 to ask for the money and school administrators were beginning to fear ideology would trump concerns about the budget crisis….”
“The so-called EduJobs money is earmarked for teacher and school staff job preservation at the district level. Administrators will be notified Monday how much each district will receive and the process by which they will get the money, which proponents had said could preserve as many as 2,800 Minnesota teacher jobs.”
Once more: The citation is to a story that has Pawlenty, questionable K-12 finance record notwithstanding, accepting money to preserve teacher jobs. The link in the tweet went not to that citation from a credible news source but to an opinion piece tied to a group that – agree or disagree with its politics – had a mission of “messaging” in favor of an agenda shared with shared funders.
My point is not to resuscitate Pawlenty, whose education legacy actually entails a major role in the dismantling of the Minnesota Miracle, the state funding system that helped make this state a leader in the equitable funding of public schools. Nor is it to comment on Dayton’s performance, which included both a reversal of Pawlenty’s structural funding changes and plenty of financial sleight of hand in the education arena.
Both political parties are counting on you to do what most folks who saw this afternoon’s tweets likely did, to see the assertion that Pawlenty laid off teachers and a citation from a credible news outlet. And then keep scrolling, your biases probably having been reinforced.
I’d like to suggest that at least when it comes to education policy and politics, Minnesota desperately needs a truth squad. Of particular urgency is one that would parse the claims state officials, elected leaders and political candidates make about school finance and education data.
Families aren’t stupid. They know there’s some kind of three-card-Monty going on when officials keep bragging about how much “new money” they poured into education, even as their kids’ classrooms get more and more crowded and their property tax statements climb.
And it’s not like we need #FakeNews to inject drama into the race. Minnesota has nation-leading racial and socio-economic achievement gaps and neither party is advancing a serious agenda, beyond spending and cutting, about addressing it.
Or put more directly: We still care a whole lot more about adult politics than we do about each other’s children.
There’s no end to the urgent debates that could be had about education heading into this electoral cycle. Maybe we should try meeting on the moral high ground for a change.