On Monday night, an NBC 10 evening news segment championed Gov. Tom Corbett's so-called plan to save Philadelphia schools: the state would give $140 million, as in $20 million more than was requested; the city would deliver $74 million, which would be an extra $14 million beyond the School Reform Commission's request; and unions, asked for $130 million, offered nothing.
"All eyes," the reporter intoned, are "now focusing on the teachers union to see if leaders there comply with needed concessions."
The problem here goes beyond the harsh anti-union talking points: the dollar amounts cited are absolutely and irrefutably false.
I called NBC 10 to see if they would issue a correction — nothing yet.
Check the detailed breakdown from The Notebook: Gov. Corbett's plan includes $45 million in state dollars that actually come from the federal government, and just $16 million directly from the state. But $14 million of that $16 million basic education expenditure was already proposed — and thus already taken into account in the district's doomsday budget. It does not count toward meeting the $120 million requested of the state.
So it is most accurate to say that the state is contributing either $2 million, $47 million or, less precisely, $61 million.
The rest is city money: $50 million in city borrowing against an extended 1 percent sales tax hike, and $30 million in projected delinquent city property tax collections (the city projects just $28 million).
So: NBC counts those city dollars twice on the same chart, once as a city contribution and once as a state contribution. We all make errors — but NBC 10 refuses to correct this one.
Corbett's "rescue package," as I noted earlier this week (Corbett to Philly: Fix your own schools), is simply a plan to raise taxes on overtaxed Philadelphians dressed up like state aid. Notably, the state has controlled Philadelphia schools via the School Reform Commission for more than a decade.
I spoke to one NBC 10 reporter by phone. He told me the numbers definitely weren't right. I was then bumped to senior management and haven't heard back yet.
It is plainly inaccurate to assert the the state is contributing $140 million. Any newspaper account makes this clear.
Also troubling is that the erroneous numbers lay the groundwork for the reporter's conclusion that "most of the hurdles have been cleared," and that fixing the budget gap "is all contingent on the union and its concessions" and a cigarette tax hike. There is, as City Paper has reported, a high-level effort to exploit the Philly schools crisis to attack the teachers union — all part of a ploy to boost Corbett's flagging re-election prospects.
OK: It's not like I think that local evening "news," a land of skin-deep crime reporting and a bank-busting meteorology-equipment arms race, necessarily has anything to do with journalism. But one expects even a pretend news organization to correct patent factual inaccuracies.*
In that spirit: I'm calling on City Paper readers to email me (with me a link) when you view something scandalously bad or straight-up false on local television news.
Right now, you can call NBC 10 and ask if they plan to issue a correction: 610-668-5705
* I'm not saying that real public affairs journalism doesn't happen on local television (see Jeff Cole's police brutality investigation). But it is far too rare.
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