MADISON, Wis. — A former Wisconsin teacher of the year criticized likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker in an open letter this week, saying he's misrepresenting the facts when telling an anecdote about a laid-off teacher.
The Republican Wisconsin governor on Thursday defended his telling of the story, which he's repeated many times and wrote about in his 2013 book, saying he's been "very clear" in how he's described what happened to the teacher.
Claudia Klein Felske posted Monday on Marquette University's College of Education blog that she was "surprised" and "bewildered" to hear Walker tell Iowa conservatives last month the story of how the 2010 teacher of the year had lost her job.
Felske was the 2010 high school teacher of the year, one of four teachers given the prestigious award by the state superintendent and recognized at a Capitol ceremony, and was not laid off.
Walker has frequently told the story of how "outstanding teacher of the year" Megan Sampson lost her job in 2011. The governor cites it as an example of what he called a broken system that he fixed by effectively ending collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers.
Sampson actually won the Nancy Hoefs Memorial Award, given by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English for first-year language arts teachers. And while she was laid off in June 2010 from a job in Milwaukee, she was hired by another nearby district for a job that following fall.
Walker wrote about Sampson in his 2013 book "Unintimidated" and clearly identified her as "the outstanding first-year teacher by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English." But during a conservative summit last month in Iowa that attracted other potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates he described Sampson as "the outstanding teacher of the year in my state."
That comment spurred Felske's letter to Walker.
Walker, in a conference call with reporters Thursday in London where he is on a trade mission, called controversy over how he describes the award Sampson won a "petty distinction."
"It's very clear I've talked about this many times," Walker said.
Felske wrote to Walker that "you should have done some serious soul searching" and looked at the impact funding cuts he supported for public K-12 schools, technical colleges and the University of Wisconsin System in 2011 had in leading to Samson's layoff, not the seniority system that existed under union contracts.
"Your tenure as governor has demonstrated nothing less than a systematic attempt to dismantle public education, the cornerstone of democracy and the ladder of social mobility for any society," Felske wrote.
Walker has repeatedly defended his moves, saying the $1.6 billion cut to K-12 schools was manageable because districts could find savings after being freed from onerous union contracts and by other portions of his law that forced teachers to pay more for pension and health care benefits.
Walker said those complaining over the teacher of the year distinction are "trying to redirect where the facts are."
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