Patrick McIlheran would fail an elementary statistics class if he submitted his latest hit, rather “quick hit,” on Wisconsin’s teachers.
The piece is a classic illustration of the statistical fallacy of data manipulation- presentation of data in a misleading way to support a hypothesis which is without merit.
McIlheran notes that Wisconsin’s public schools spend 26% of their budgets on benefits and suggests that it is teachers with their ”mutant sized health care package” who are responsible for cuts in art and music classes. That’s like blaming Wisconsin’s drivers for the increase in gas prices!
What McIlheran fails to note is that health care costs in southeastern Wisconsin are between 31% (2004) and 26.5% (2006) higher than the rest of the country.
A 2004 study by the non-partisan, United States General Accountability Office found that hospital inpatient charges are 63% higher in the Milwaukee area than the national average. The same report also documented that physicians' prices were 33% higher than the average of 331 metro areas.
Overall, Milwaukee-area hospitals ranked fifth in price and area physician fees rank 16th.
So, of course, health care costs will be higher for Wisconsin’s teachers and the school districts that employ them than their counterparts in other states where health care costs are significantly lower!
Health care costs as a percentage of employee compensation, the statistic McIlheran conveniently cherry picks, is higher in Wisconsin because our teachers’ compensation is capped by the Qualified Economic Offer (QEOs) law. As health care costs increase, salary increases are held down. In some districts they have actually been frozen. As a result, health care costs as a percentage of compensation increase!
Here's are some additional salient facts that McIlheran ignores: while health care costs increased at more than three times the rate of inflation from 1994-95 to 2004-2005, Wisconsin's teachers' salaries fell 9.6% when adjusted for inflation. In 2004-05 Wisconsin's average teacher salary was 7.1% below the national average teacher salary.
But we hear nary a word from McIlheran about the Wisconsin’s soaring health care costs, the market dominance of Wisconsin’s health care providers that allows them to charge monopoly prices and secure monopoly profits or declining teachers' pay.
Satirist Mark Twain must have had writers like McIlheran in mind when he sarcastically urged: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”