Saturday, September 20th, 2014
Half-True
Schultz
Says Chris Christie fired 6,000 teachers.

Ed Schultz on Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 in a broadcast of the "Ed Schultz Show"

Ed Schultz says Chris Christie fired 6,000 teachers

New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie might have won re-election with plenty of votes from Democrats (a stunning third of voters from the other party marked their ballots for him, according to exit polls), but he got no love from a major Democratic constituency: teachers and people who identify with their cause.

MSNBC host Ed Schultz puts himself in the teachers’ camp. On his election day show, Schultz said Christie is far more conservative than the moderate image that swirls around him. Case in point? The governor’s education policy.

"All of a sudden, he is the self-anointed expert on education in America, and he has all the answers," Schultz said. "Cut a billion dollars out of the system, fire 6,000 teachers, and just tell everybody I'm an expert."

Did Christie’s policy lead to the firing of 6,000 teachers? We decided to dig a little.

We reached out the Ed Schultz Show and didn’t hear back, but the state count of teachers undercuts the claim.

Christie took office in 2010. Over the next two years, the number of teachers fell by about 4,500.

Year

Number of teachers

Change from year before

2007

110,964

 

2008

111,786

822

2009

114,450

2,664

2010

114,704

254

2011

110,301

-4,403

2012

110,229

-72

Source: New Jersey Education Dept.

Now, while 4,500 is less than 6,000, it’s still a lot of teachers, and Schultz could claim that he was in the ballpark. Except we know that not all those teachers were fired.

" 'Firing' is an incorrect term," said Steve Wollmer, director of communications for the New Jersey Education Association. Wollmer said Christie backed a budget cut of $1.3 billion for schools. It produced a mix of layoffs and retirements. Wollmer said layoffs were more common than retirements, but he said he has no hard data on how many people fell into each group. Plus, the cuts led to reductions in the ranks of both teachers and support staff. Wollmer lumps both groups together.

"I’m more than comfortable saying Christie was responsible for over 6,000 layoffs, due to his cuts," Wolmer said.

But that raises another wrinkle in the story. We need to assess whether responsibility for the loss of teachers rest solely on Christie’s shoulders.

Gordon MacInnes, a former Democratic lawmaker and now head of a left-leaning think tank, New Jersey Policy Perspective, said two things happened after Christie took office.

"Christie and the Democratic Legislature cut $1 billion in state funds from school aid and the stimulus aid expired," MacInnes said.

A multi-billion dollar state budget deficit made 2010 a very contentious year for school funding. Christie proposed deep reductions in aid, and local school boards tried to fill the gap with property tax hikes. Then local voters shot down those plans in record numbers.

Those local decisions complicate the picture,

"Yes, funding cuts do appear in many cases to have led to staffing reductions," said Bruce Baker, professor of education at Rutgers. "But I'm not sure of a good data source you could use to identify what share of those reductions were from ‘reduction in force’ policies invoked by local public school districts claiming fiscal stress."

On the other hand, as a deadline loomed for passage of a state budget, Christie refused concessions to the Democratic-controlled Legislature and the state’s smallest budget in five years passed with a minimum of Democratic support. The initial cuts were so deep, a judge reversed a portion of them.

The loss of stimulus dollars also played a major role. According to the federal government website, Recovery.gov, New Jersey received over $1.6 billion in one-time education grants through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. In April 2010, Christie’s administration said schools needed to manage a slightly smaller loss of about $1 billion in stimulus funds but in either case, schools were losing a significant amount of money due to the end of the federal program.

Overall, Christie gets a fair degree of responsibility for the school funding cuts, although the way those cuts translated into reductions in staff might be indirect.

Our ruling

Schultz said Christie firied 6,000 teachers. There are two problems with Schultz’s claim. First, the number is closer to 4,500, and even the teachers’ union would not say that all the people that held those jobs were fired. Some of them retired and were not replaced. The number of teachers declined but not necessarily through being fired or laid-off.

Second, while Christie pushed hard for steep cuts to school funding, he also got help from local voters.

Because of those caveats, we rate Schultz's claim Half True.