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FactChecking CPAC

A parade of potential Republican presidential candidates took turns at delivering speeches and answering questions at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that started on Feb. 26. They boasted of their accomplishments and voiced their opinions, but along the way there were some distortions of facts:

  • Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said “all” of the legal immigration in the U.S. was “based on whether or not you have a family member here.” Nearly two-thirds of the inflow of legal permanent residents in 2013 was based on family-sponsored immigration.
  • Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry claimed that the cost of government regulation “hits American families for $15,000 a year.” That figure comes from a conservative group’s admitted “back-of-the-envelope” calculation of estimated regulatory costs that does not include any potential savings.
  • Perry mixed and matched jobs data to embellish Texas’ record on job creation. He claimed Texas created 1.4 million jobs in the last seven years, while the rest of the country lost 250,000. In fact, Texas created 1.3 million jobs and the rest of the country added 987,900 jobs.
  • Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal overstated the federal government’s role in Common Core State Standards, which Rubio described as a “national curriculum” and Jindal said imposes “content standards.” State leaders developed the standards, and local school officials set the curriculum.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said his state’s ACT scores rank second in the country. That’s second out of 30 states, and the composite score hasn’t changed during Walker’s tenure.

Rubio on Immigration

Rubio stretched the facts a bit on legal immigration.

Rubio, Feb. 27: We also have a legal immigration system that’s the most generous in the world. A million people a year come to this country legally. No other country even comes close to that. But it’s all based on whether or not you have a family member here, and it can’t continue to be based on family alone. It’s got to be based on some sort of merit and economic contribution.

Rubio overstates his case when he says legal immigration in the U.S. is “all based on whether or not you have a family member here, and it can’t continue to be based on family alone.” (Emphasis is ours.)

According to the Department of Homeland Security, nearly two-thirds of “lawful permanent resident flow” — 990,553 in 2013 — was due to family-sponsored immigration. (See Table 2.) Much of the emphasis on family-based immigration can be traced to the Immigration Act of 1990, a bill that passed with bipartisan support and raised caps on family preferences. In remarks made when he signed the bill into law, President George H.W. Bush noted that the law sought, in part, to promote “respect for the family unit.”

Still, two-thirds is not “all,” as Rubio stated. About 16 percent of the permanent legal immigration in the U.S. in 2013 was from “employment-based preferences,” which includes “priority workers,” professionals with advanced degrees, skilled workers and those who make large investments in American companies. Another 12 percent were refugees, and nearly 5 percent came via the U.S. “diversity” program to encourage immigration from many countries.

Rubio may argue that more of the immigration system ought to be based on “merit and economic contribution” — more than the 16 percent given “employment-based preferences” now — but he went a bit too far by stating that our immigration system is “based on family alone.”

As for the claim that the U.S. immigration system is the “most generous in the world,” that’s true in raw numbers. As we said, the inflow of legal permanent immigration was 990,553 in 2013 (that’s down from 1,031,631 in 2012). The next closest country for immigration was Germany, which saw nearly 400,000 new permanent immigrants in 2012, followed by the U.K. with 286,000, and France, Italy, Canada and Australia all seeing roughly a quarter of a million permanent immigrants that year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (See Table 1.1)

However, when immigration is considered as a percentage of a country’s total population, the U.S. ranked 18th in 2012. (See Figure 1.4.) And as Adam Ozimek, an associate at an economics consulting firm, noted in a blog posting for Forbes in 2012, the U.S ranked 12th when it came to the stock of immigrants as a percentage of a country’s overall population. So whether the United States’ legal immigration policy is the “most generous” in the world, as Rubio claimed, is a matter of debate.

Perry’s Regulatory Cost-Per-Family Statistic

In his speech, Perry took aim at over-regulation, claiming that “regulatory cost hits American families for $15,000 a year.”

Perry, Feb. 27: This regulatory cost hits American families for about $15,000 a year. That’s the highest cost on your budget than anything other than housing.

Perry’s dubious figure comes from an admitted “back-of-the-envelope” calculation from a report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is “dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.” In other words, it is a staunch opponent of government over-regulation.

In the report, “Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State,” author Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. calculates the 2013 cost of federal regulatory compliance at nearly $1.9 trillion. To arrive at the cost-per-family figure, that $1.9 trillion was simply divided by the number of American households. By that math, Crews argues, “each U.S. household ‘pays’ $14,974 annually in a hidden regulatory tax report.” And, the report notes, that that figure is “higher than every annual household budgetary expenditure item except housing.”

Crews admits in the report that his methods are “not scientific” but argues that “the comparison is a useful back-of-the-envelope way of reflecting on the magnitude of regulatory costs.”

But a deeper look into the $1.9 trillion figure — contained in another report “Tip of the Costberg” — shows that the figure is based on the Office of Management and Budget’s annual reports to Congress on the benefits and costs of federal regulation. The problem is that Crews focused on the “costs” and ignored the “benefits” listed in those reports. The OMB typically makes the case that benefits exceed costs, as you can see in its latest report.

As our fact-checking colleague Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post noted when the same statistic was cited by Rep. Bob Goodlatte last month, “Seat belts are a regulation, but they also result in fewer deaths, which is presumably a benefit. Higher fuel-economy standards raise the initial cost of a car, but also result in savings on gasoline over time.”

One is free to take issue with the conclusions of the OMB’s cost-benefit analyses, but to highlight the costs while ignoring benefits tells only half the story.

Texas-Size Job Boast

Perry also repeated misleading claims he had made earlier this year about job creation in Texas. He mixed and matched labor statistics to puff up his state’s record.

Perry Feb. 27: In my 14 years as governor, we helped to create almost one third of all the private sector jobs in America. In the last seven years, we created 1.4 million jobs. You take those jobs out of the equation, minus those jobs created in Texas, this country lost a quarter of a million jobs.

Perry made similar claims in January in his farewell speech to lawmakers days before he left office.

His first claim — that Texas “helped to create almost one third of all the private sector jobs in America” while he was governor — is correct, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ nonfarm payroll data, the job growth measure preferred by economists and used by BLS to calculate job growth figures it releases monthly. Also called the Current Employment Statistics survey, the data come from a monthly survey of about 550,000 business establishments that include millions of employees. Perry’s claim is even correct if we look at all jobs — both private sector and government jobs — from December 2000, when he took office, through December 2014, the most recent state statistics available. Either way, Texas is responsible for 29 percent of the nation’s job growth in that time period.

But Perry’s second claim — that in the last seven years Texas created 1.4 million jobs while the rest of the country lost 250,000 — isn’t accurate at all, using those same nonfarm payroll numbers. Instead, those numbers show that Texas created 1.3 million jobs and the rest of the country, without Texas, created 987,900 jobs.

In order to claim that Texas created more than a million jobs while the rest of the country lost jobs, Perry has to switch from the nonfarm payroll data he used for his first statistic to the Current Population Survey, which is a monthly survey of 60,000 households that’s used to calculate the unemployment rate. (It’s not as easy to find those employment numbers for both Texas and the nation on BLS’s website as it is to pull up the nonfarm payroll data.)

The household survey counts as “employed” people who aren’t on a payroll, such as unpaid family workers, the self-employed and day laborers. It also includes agricultural workers and those who are absent from work and not being paid.

Perry is mixing and matching data sets here, using the measure that makes Texas’ record look more impressive. But if he’s talking about job creation – and using the standard measuring stick he himself cited in nearly the same breath — then it’s incorrect to say the rest of the country outside Texas lost jobs.

Common Core and the ‘National Curriculum’

On education, Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal misrepresented the Common Core State Standards.

Both criticized the federal government for imposing a “national curriculum,” as Rubio described Common Core in an exchange with moderator Sean Hannity. The Obama administration does support the standards, and federal money has been used to develop the standardized tests that students will take. But the standards were developed by state governors and education officials and voluntarily adopted by states, and the curriculum is set by state and local school officials.

Jindal, Feb. 26: We object to Common Core because the federal government has no right imposing curriculum, imposing content standards in local classrooms when these decisions have always been made by local parents, by teachers, by local leaders.

A day later, Rubio made similar remarks.

Rubio, Feb. 27: The second thing is, we need to help our people be stronger than ever. That begins with strong families, by empowering parents, by allowing parents to choose the school their kids go to, not tell — not have the government tell them where they’re going to go to school. By the way, that also means not having a national school board that imposes a national curriculum on the whole country.

Hannity: So I’ll put you down as yes for Common Core.

This is not the first time that Rubio has made such remarks. In 2013, Rubio said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that Common Core was well-intended, but was “increasingly being used by the Obama Administration to turn the Department of Education into what is effectively a national school board. This effort to coerce states into adhering to national curriculum standards is not the best way to help our children attain the best education.” (Our colleagues at Politifact called Rubio’s statement “false.”)

The Common Core State Standards are a set of standards developed by the states for what children from kindergarten through 12th grade should know in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. They were developed by high-ranking state officials through the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Common Core does not set curriculum; that is still left up to state and local school boards and officials.

Discussions on the standards first began in November 2007, but much of the work developing the standards occurred in 2009 and 2010, according to a timeline on the official website, called corestandards.org. A final plan was released in June 2010.

The federal government was not involved in the development of the standards, and adoption of the standards is voluntary, as explained on the NGA’s Common Core website:

Common Core State Standards website: The Common Core is a state‐led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. The federal government played no role in the development of the Common Core. State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. States began the work to create clear, consistent standards before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided funding for the Race to the Top grant program. It also began before the Elementary and Secondary Education Act blueprint was released, because this work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government.

A total of 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core standards. That includes Florida and Louisiana.

Jindal initially supported the standards, telling the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry in 2012 that the Common Core standards were part of his “bold plans to reform Louisiana’s education system.” He rattled off several accomplishments, including: “Adopting the Common Core State Standards, which will raise expectations for every child.”

The governor is now seeking a court order to stop his state’s students from taking the test next month.

We talked to Scott Richard, the executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, about implementation of the Common Core standards in Jindal’s home state. “It’s been a train wreck,” he said. “You can quote me on that.”

Richard said the governor has prevented the state from purchasing the PARCC assessment tests that will be used to measure Louisiana student performance on math and English. It is one of two assessments that have been developed with federal funding. (The other test was developed by Smarter Balanced).

Federal funding to develop the assessment tests is at the root of the complaints about Common Core, Richard said. “Local school boards choose what local curriculum to teach to students,” he said. “But the reality is … the actual assessments drive the decisions that school boards make.”

Education Secretary Arnie Duncan says critics are misinformed, confusing standards for curriculum.

Duncan, June 25, 2013: We need to be very clear about definitions here.

  • Standards — learning standards, academic standards — are the goals, typically set by states, for what students should know by a certain age.
  • Curriculum — on the other hand — is what teachers teach to help students meet those standards. Curriculum is generally chosen at the district or even the school level — and in many cases individual teachers actually decide on the curriculum and classroom content.

We agree. We take no position on the merits of the Common Core standards. But Rubio’s description of Common Core as a “national curriculum” and the Department of Education as “national school board” — and Jindal’s claim that the federal government is “imposing curriculum, imposing content standards” — overstates the federal government’s role in the standards. They were developed by state political and education leaders and implemented by state and local school officials.

Walker on Test Scores

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker overstated the impact of his policies while talking about education.

Walker, Feb. 26: Because of that in our states we don’t have seniority or tenure anymore. We can hire and fire based on merit. We can pay based on performance. We can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms and we can keep them there. And you know what it’s working. It’s working. Our school scores are better. Our ACT scores are 2nd best in the country. Our graduation rates are up over the past four years. Our reading scores are up over the past four years because we put the power back in the hands of the hardworking taxpayers and the people they elect to run their school boards.

As we have written once before, Wisconsin ranks second among the 30 states that had 50 percent or more of their students take the ACT college admission assessment in 2014. ACT does not rank states, but that’s how Wisconsin ranks itself, as Walker’s office has told us before. So, Wisconsin ranks second out of 30 states, not “in the country.”

Also, Wisconsin’s composite ACT score has not changed under Walker, so it’s misleading to credit his policies for the state’s ranking.

Wisconsin ranked third in 2010-11, when Walker took office, so its ranking has improved slightly. But that’s not because its scores are better. Its composite score was 22.2 in 2013-14, the same as it was in 2010-11. Wisconsin moved up to second because Iowa’s composite score was 22 in 2014, down from 22.3 in 2011.

Walker is also not quite right about reading scores.

The governor is referring to the statewide assessment tests that are given to students beginning in third grade. The reading scores for elementary and high school grades were up in 2013-14 compared with 2010-11, but they were down for the middle school grades. The percentage of middle school students who scored proficient or advanced in reading was 37 percent in 2010-11, and it dipped slightly to 36.2 percent in 2013-14. By individual grade, reading scores were down for fifth and eighth, but up for all other grades.

As for graduation rates, they are up slightly — from 87 percent to 88 percent — from school year 2010-11 to 2012-13, the most recent year for which statistics are available. But there’s no evidence that Walker’s policies have had an impact on reading scores or graduation rates.

— Eugene Kiely, Robert Farley and Lori Robertson