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Act 10 protests for slideshow

Many teachers were among the thousands who turned out in 2011 at the Capitol to protest Scott Walker's anti-union Act. 10. 

It’s hard to blame Gov. and presidential candidate Scott Walker for dropping the name of a Wauwatosa teacher every other campaign stop as a way to illustrate one of his Act 10 “reforms.”

She makes for a good example of the ridiculousness of the last-hired, first-fired rule that was once so common in Wisconsin public education.

But even a good story gets old. More important, if a multimillion-dollar campaign operation can’t come up with other real-life examples of how a candidate’s signature law improved the lives of those it affected, people might start to wonder whether the law was all that great in the first place.

Observers of Wisconsin politics should be familiar with former Milwaukee, now Wauwatosa teacher Megan Sampson.

Although Walker has consistently botched the details of her story, he’s gotten enough of them right to make his point.

In short: An award Sampson won for her work in her first year of teaching in the Milwaukee Public Schools in 2010 wasn’t enough to keep her from getting laid off under teacher’s union seniority rules. She subsequently landed a job in Wauwatosa.

Because Act 10 eviscerated public-sector unions, there was less chance after the law was in place that districts would have to abide by such anti-educational rules.

Sampson has since complained that she’s tired of being one of Walker’s talking points as he stumps for the 2016 Republican nomination. I figure if you’re going to be part of a profession that has long been heavily involved in electoral politics, you can’t really complain when the politicians involve you.

Wisconsin teachers, through the Wisconsin Education Association Council, made independent political expenditures of more than $5 million between 2008 and 2012, for example, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Groups backing Walker’s campaign for president have raised more than $26 million. Public education in Wisconsin isn’t crawling with folks eager to shower Act 10 with accolades, but with $26 million, campaign researchers should be able to come up with at least a few more anecdotes to illustrate the law’s benefits.

When I asked for some related to education, a Walker campaign spokeswoman had to reach all the way back to 2011 and 2012. She pointed to four school districts that reportedly used Act 10 reforms to save money, reduce class sizes, hire teachers and offer merit pay.

Walker told the New Hampshire Education Summit on Wednesday how impressed he was by Sampson’s professionalism when one of his sons had her for a teacher in Wauwatosa. During a parent-teacher conference, he said, she refrained from mentioning politics to the governor who had turned her profession’s world upside down.

I’ve had similar experiences with the teachers my children have had in the Madison public schools. I’ve been critical of teachers unions, but my kids’ teachers have been helpful, smart and nonpartisan with me.

Which is probably just more proof that they deserve to be employed and paid — and probably paid more — like the professionals they are, and not based on something as meaningless as seniority.

Whatever its ills, Act 10 at least made that possible.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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Chris Rickert is the urban affairs reporter and SOS columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal.