The Trouble With Fox's Reporting On Schools

When they're not busy taking up the fight against labor unions or healthy eating, one of Fox's favorite battles is its War on Education. Fox News, like the rest of the right-wing media, is relentless in pushing stories that openly bash teachers and schools; their favorites are phony stories about supposed "indoctrination" or "liberal bias" in public schools.

Today they took a slightly different approach, however, and attacked Texas teachers for asking for a “bailout.” Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy teased the story this way on today's broadcast:

DOOCY: Coming up next on the rundown, teachers saying no fair over budget cuts. Now, the teachers are demanding a bailout of their own. Of course.

Co-host Brian Kilmeade reported the story by saying:

KILMEADE: Public teachers in Texas angry over budget cuts that could lead to layoffs and furloughs. Well, teachers unions chanted “shame” inside the Capitol rotunda. They want lawmakers to bail out the education budget with a rainy day fund, something GOP lawmakers are against. The Senate needs to slash nearly $4 billion from the budget.

Fox drove home their point with this text, which aired on screen while Kilmeade was speaking:

trouble with schools

But teachers aren't asking for a “bailout” at all. What's actually happening is that the Texas state government is proposing cuts to education, and teachers are fighting the cuts, claiming the government already has the money it claims needs axing.

Texas, like many states, is facing a budget shortfall -- an estimated $13.4 billion -- for FY2012. Lawmakers have proposed, among other cuts, that $4 billion be cut from the state's funding for education. To help school districts absorb those budget cuts, the Texas Senate passed a bill “allowing school districts to reduce teacher pay and furlough them,” as The Houston Chronicle reported Monday.

Teachers responded, the Chronicle article continued, by protesting at the Capitol and calling on the legislature to draw from Texas' rainy day fund to cover shortfalls instead:

Lawmakers are working to cut $4 billion from the state's 1,040 public school districts. Giving school administrators flexibility to cut teacher pay and allow up to six days of unpaid leave -- which existing law does not allow -- will save teacher jobs, Senate Education Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said of school reform measure SB 8.

But hundreds of educators and their supporters attending a Capitol rally were not impressed.


[Texas science teacher Randy] Colbert and others contend the Legislature's action will not sit well with voters next year. Lawmakers are meeting in a special session that Gov. Rick Perry called last week to address public education.


Colbert said his Republican friends and family are upset that lawmakers are cutting education instead of pulling money out of the state's $6.5 billion rainy day fund, which the Legislature created more than 20 years ago specifically to spare education from cuts during bad economic times.

Texas' rainy day fund, the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), is generated mostly by oil and gas production taxes. Since its creation in 1988, it has been used several times in recent years to cover budget shortfalls. For example, a January/February 2011 publication from the Comptroller's office notes:

In 2002, however, ESF deposits and interest exceeded $700 million, pushing the fund's balance above $900 million -- a definite plus for the 2003 Legislature, which was grappling with a $10 billion budget gap. In that session, the Legislature appropriated virtually all of the fund's revenues.

In fact, in 2003 and 2005, the report continues, legislatures “appropriated ESF funds to purposes including the Teacher Retirement System, state health and human services, the Governor's Office and the Texas Education Agency.” So the fund has, in fact, been used to fund education in times of deficits before.

As The Houston Chronicle reported, teachers are currently pointing out that the $4 billion the legislature wants to cut from education could be pulled from the rainy day fund, which reportedly totals $6.5 billion and which the State Comptroller reportedly estimates will be $9.4 billion by the end of 2013. One problem appears to be that in March, Gov. Rick Perry agreed to tap $3.2 billion from the ESF to cover deficits in the 2011 budget, and as The Associated Press reported at the time, Perry said he would “not sign a 2012-2013 state budget that uses the Rainy Day Fund.”

Clearly, there is a newsworthy standoff in the making here. It would certainly be legitimate to point out Perry's promise about not using the ESF for the 2012-2013 budget when reporting on teachers' current protests.

But it is not legitimate to suggest teachers are asking for a “bailout” à la General Motors or Bank of America. This isn't a “problem with schools.” It's a problem with Fox's reporting.