For years, Gov. Scott Walker has made high school English teacher Megan Sampson the face of Act 10 -- his signature bill that curtailed collective bargaining for most public employee unions.
Sampson was a first-year teacher who lost her job in 2010 after Milwaukee Public Schools experienced a budget crisis. Walker cites her as an example of why his Act 10 reforms -- and the changes they made to how public employees can be hired and fired -- were needed.
In essence, he says, an excellent teacher lost her job because of the union contract.
Walker first brought national attention to Sampson when he mentioned her in the opening paragraph of a March 10, 2011 Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Now, Walker has been including a version of Sampson’s story in the speeches he is making as he moves toward a 2016 presidential bid.
Here’s how Walker explained it Jan. 24, 2015 at the Iowa Freedom Summit.
"In 2010, there was a young woman named Megan Sampson who was honored as the outstanding teacher of the year in my state," he said. "And not long after she got that distinction, she was laid off by her school district."
Walker explained: "Her union contract said the last hired was the first fired; the last in was the first out."
Is Walker right?
Digging into the claim
As evidence, Walker spokesman Tom Evenson cited a June 14, 2010 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article that focused on Sampson and other MPS teachers who were laid off.
Sampson, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, had taken her first job with MPS in the fall of 2009. She taught English at Bradley Tech High School.
That year, the article noted, Sampson received the Nancy Hoefs Memorial Award for the Outstanding First-Year Teacher from the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English.
One week after receiving the award, MPS issued layoff notices to 482 teachers, according to seniority. Sampson was among those who got the notice under the seniority rules that were part of the contract with MPS and the teachers’ union. Such rules are common in labor agreements.
In August 2010, the district attempted to rehire -- "call back" in union parlance -- Sampson, after numerous resignations and additional funding became available. However, by then she had accepted a position teaching English at Wauwatosa East High School, where she is still employed.
So, on the layoff portion of claim, Walker is correct.
Megan Sampson lost her job at Bradley Tech because of the union contract in place at the time. And Walker is also correct that Act 10 did away with such rules.
The law limits the ability of public unions to bargain collectively for anything except raises, and those have an inflation-based cap. The changes ended bargaining over benefits, overtime, work conditions -- including the use of seniority when it comes to layoffs.
But Walker stretches things when he emphasizes Sampson’s honor, making the award more significant.
As the original Journal Sentinel story noted, Sampson was named outstanding first-year teacher by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English. (Indeed, this is the story cited by Walker’s team as evidence of his claim.)
Nine months later, in the Wall Street Journal piece, Walker called her "an Outstanding First Year Teacher in Wisconsin." That’s mostly correct.
In Iowa, Walker described her as "the outstanding teacher of the year."
That overstates the honor.
Others have made the same observation. There are 50,000-plus public school teachers in the state. Only a percentage of those are English teachers. And first-year English teachers are a smaller group still.
The state does name an outstanding teacher of the year -- there actually were four of them in 2010.
The state Department of Public Instruction gave the high school teacher award to Claudia Klein Felske, an English teacher in the East Troy district. The award was presented Sept. 8, 2010 by state Schools Superintendent Tony Evers at an assembly in the high school gym.
After Walker’s recent speeches, Felske posted an "open letter" to the governor criticizing his education policies.
In Iowa, Walker said the woman named Wisconsin’s "outstanding teacher of the year" was laid off by the Milwaukee Public Schools in 2010 under "seniority and tenure rules" that were eliminated by his Act 10 changes.
His point on the seniority rules and their elimination under Act 10 are on target -- though he does not mention that MPS had offered Sampson the job back.
However, in seeking a stronger rhetorical point, Walker stretches the honor Sampson received.
It helps make the story more dramatic, but less accurate.
We rate Walker’s statement Half True.
More on Scott Walker
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