Taking Action: Anti-AEA Ad Put to Truth Test

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Political ads are starting to pick up.  But, how truthful are these ads?  We put one to the test.

The ad in question is an attack ad against the Alabama Education Association, and it’s funded by the Foundation for Education in Alabama.

The ad is difficult to analyze.  The creators made it hypothetical.  The YouTube title is “If I Wanted Our Children to Fail,” so the creators aren’t saying anyone is actually doing these things.  They are saying if someone wanted to hurt our kids, then this is what they would do.

However, one of the claims is that someone who wanted our children to fail would call themselves the AEA.  So, it’s safe to assume the creators of the ad associate their claims with the Alabama Education Association’s actions.

We truth tested the claims of the ad against the actions of the AEA.  Let’s start with the first claim.

If I wanted our children to fail, I’d need a stranglehold on the public schools.

We asked WHNT News 19 Political Analyst Jess Brown to take a look at the ad.  He gave his reaction to the claim.

“Stranglehold would appear to me to be a bit of an overstatement.  But, I will say this – many of the policies that limit options that local school board members would have for innovations in public education, they cannot do those things because of laws that AEA had placed on the books in Montgomery years ago,” said Brown.

Still when we look at the last session of the legislature, we saw the passage of the Alabama Accountability Act, a huge reform that the AEA fought.  If they don’t have the power to stop massive changes like the Alabama Accountability Act, you can’t say they have a stranglehold, even if they are powerful.

So we label the claim: Misleading.

The ad goes on.

And, I’d use the power of liberal big government unions to get it.

The AEA does work directly with the NEA, a larger counterpart.  Brown says, “I would describe NEA as more union-like than the AEA.  And, I would certainly say that the NEA has in recent years taken positions that, yes, it is accurate to describe the NEA as very much a liberal group.”

So the AEA does have ties to an organization that could be called a “liberal big government union.”  But, as we saw in the first fact check, they have not leveraged that into a “stranglehold.”  As such, we assess this claim: Mostly True.

I’d fill their coffers with your tax dollars, and bankroll politicians who’d block reform.

We’ll come back to the tax dollars claim.  When we focus on the AEA bankrolling politicians who would block reform, we get this assessment from Brown, “Without question, the most debated and high profile issue involving public schools in Alabama has been Common Core.  And, the AEA has been essentially fighting for that reform side by side with the leadership of the Business Council of Alabama.”

The AEA has resisted and tried to block some reforms, like the Alabama Accountability Act.  But, it’s inaccurate to imply that they uniformly bankroll politicians who fight reform, especially while they push for one of the most hotly debated reforms in the state.

Therefore we mark this claim: Misleading.

Then, I’d make it impossible to pay our best teachers more money.

Here the ad references merit based pay on which Brown gives this analysis, “If we look at it in terms of modern Alabama history, AEA has virtually made it impossible for local school boards to have the flexibility they need to really reward teachers on a performance basis.”

And with that in mind, we mark this claim: True.

And equally impossible for our poorest families to escape the schools that are failing them.

“In all my years in Montgomery, I didn’t see the AEA spending much energy and effort on trying to regulate students being moved from one public school to another public school.  It’s when you attempted to move the student out of the public school arena either to private school or to homeschooling, the AEA viewed that as, if that’s perpetuated, that’s just a job lost for their membership,” said Brown.

So, if a public school fails a child, Brown says the AEA will work to keep them in that system, though they may not fight to keep the kid in the same school.  Therefore, we will rule this claim: Mostly True.

I’d call myself the Alabama Education Association, but I wouldn’t fight for education or students or parents or our best teachers.  I’d fight for mediocrity over merit and seniority instead of success.

Here we see a lot of subjective writing with no real facts to verify.  It’s worth noting that the AEA has generally valued seniority, though it’s impossible to objectively say whether they do so over success.  As such, we move on from this section of the ad without a verdict.

Now to the ad’s final claim.

If I wanted our children to fail, I’d even slip liberal politicians into our primaries, pretend they were conservatives, and hope you didn’t notice.

Brown had this to say, “There’s no doubt in my mind that AEA has recruited some candidates that are sympathetic to their agendas.  Does that make that candidate a liberal by national political standards? They may be, but not necessarily so.”

So again, there could be truth here.  But, it’s layered with unjustified assertions.  So, the claim is: Misleading.

We also reached out to the AEA to get their reaction to the ad.

President Anita Gibson told us they don’t comment on lies.  When we pressed the organization to identify the most egregious claims, they pointed to the very beginning of the ad.

If I wanted our children to fail, I’d need a stranglehold on the public schools, and I’d use the power of liberal big government unions to get it. I’d fill their coffers with your tax dollars.

The part that really grabbed them is the “fill their coffers with your tax dollars.”  The AEA says they don’t receive any tax dollars; they rely on membership dues.

Here’s what Jess Brown had to say about that line, “There is no line item in the education trust fund budget that directly appropriates money to the Alabama Education Association.  However, the employees of the Alabama Education Association, the cost of personnel for the Alabama Education Association does directly benefit from state government and state appropriations because they are allowed to participate in the Retirement Systems of Alabama.”  We confirmed with the Retirement Systems of Alabama that AEA employees do get state retirement.  So, in a sense, they do benefit from tax dollars.  But, it’s not fair to say they fill their coffers with them.

Therefore, we’re ruling this claim: Mostly False.

That brings us to our totals.  Again, we tested seven claims.

Here’s the breakdown…

  • True -1
  • Mostly True -2
  • Misleading – 3
  • Mostly False -1
  • False – 0

So by virtue of both mean and median, we come to our verdict.

The ad is misleading.

We reached out to the Foundation for Accountability in Education through the agency that purchased the commercial air time.

We have not been able to speak to anyone responsible for the content of the spot.