Michigan union leader distorts facts to build his case for school funding

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LANSING, Mich. – Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, has a reputation of not being completely accurate when it comes to public school funding.

Cook-MEAOne publication – Michigan Capitol Confidential – recently has called him out on his misrepresentations.

In a July 24 Detroit News column titled “Labor Voices,” Cook claimed that at the end of the 2010-2011 school year, there were more than sixty Michigan school districts facing a financial deficit.

Actually there were only 48 districts in the red, according to the news story.

In the same column, Cook stated that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder cut over $1 billion from the state education budget.

Capitol Confidential reports that the education budget did indeed drop between 2010-11 and 2011-12. However, this drop was from $12.98 billion in 2010-11 to $12.75 billion in 2011-12. For those of you keeping track, that would be a decrease of about $235 million, not quite the $1 billion that Cook claimed.

Not letting the facts stand in his way, Cook went on to predict, “While data is not in for the school year that just ended, you can be sure that the number (of districts with deficits) has grown substantially, with many more headed for financial chaos.”

Thankfully Capitol Confidential checked in with the Michigan Department of Education, to further investigate Cook’s prediction.

MDE spokeswoman Jan Ellis reported that there are 49 school districts with deficits and six others have told the state that they will also have deficits. This brings the number of districts in the red to 55, according to the report.

However, Ellis also stated that there are 10 school districts that are projected to fall out of the red, which would bring the number of districts in deficit down to 45.

Considering that there were 48 districts in the red in 2011 and a projected 45 in 2013, this is far from the “financial chaos” that Cook predicted.

This isn’t the first time that Cook has made some doubtful statements. In 2011, he continuously claimed that the MEA wasn’t associated with an effort to recall some Republican state lawmakers.

But the MEA’s own magazine featured a cover story about members working on the recall effort. There was also a letter, listing Cook’s name, urging members to get involved in the recall of Republican politicians.

Detroit News Editorial Page Editor Nolan Finley told Capitol Confidential in an email, “It’s not feasible to check every statement in every column we run, but we will certainly give Mr. Cook more scrutiny in the future.”

By Trevor TenBrink at EAGnews.org

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