On Wednesday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers announced he was running for the Democratic nomination for governor.
If you are cursed with reading Evers’ DPI emails, you know he’s been preparing for this for years. Any quote from Evers lists him as “State Superintendent,” which is not his official title, and gives the perception of more authority than the superintendent of public instruction actually has. Everything DPI does is at the behest of the state Legislature.
Evers said yesterday (boldface and italics his PR flack’s):
“I’m running for Governor because as a lifelong educator I’ve always believed that what’s best for our kids is best for our communities, our economy, and our democracy,” Evers said. “As State Superintendent, I’ve seen first-hand how Scott Walker’s policies have made it tougher for all public schools, and the families they serve.”
Evers understands that the greatest engine of economic growth is a strong, well-funded public school system. “I understand the best way to prepare our kids for 21st Century jobs, and bring those jobs to Wisconsin, is to build a skilled workforce by investing in our schools. As Superintendent, I have led a resurgence of career and technical education in our public school system that has led to more students being college and career ready. If we invest in public education, K-12, technical colleges and the UW System, new jobs and industries will come. And they’ll come without having to write billion dollar checks to foreign corporations.”
Evers also pledged to end the divisiveness that has paralyzed Wisconsin’s government under Scott Walker. “Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the consequences of having leaders who seek to divide us rather than bring us together. People are getting hurt. Families and friendships are being destroyed. People are scared. Make no mistake – Donald Trump is using the same playbook Scott Walker has been using in Wisconsin for years to create divisions and pit people against each other. The targets of their efforts are different, but their tactics are the same. Trump and Walker are not a symptom of our divisions – they are the cause.”
“Enough is enough. If I am elected to serve as your Governor, the politics of division stop on day one. I’ve won three statewide elections by building a coalition of Democrats, Independents and Republicans because they know that I treat my political opponents with respect and have worked across party lines to get things done for our kids.”
We have already caught Evers in his first lie, and his campaign was minutes old. Politics is a zero-sum game; one side wins, so the other side loses. Should Evers get elected governor, this state will return to the bad old days when government employee unions ran Wisconsin. And as we with enough memory can attest, the default government employee position is (1) give us all your money and (2) shut up. That is an approach Wisconsin voters have had three chances to return to, and that Wisconsin voters have rejected three times. (Five if you count the 2012 and 2016 legislative elections.)
To call Evers an “educator” is a stretch. His website bio doesn’t list what or where he taught before he became a principal. He was CESA 6 administrator before he was first elected superintendent of public instruction. He is an educational bureaucrat, hence the term ‘educrat.”
Evers would appear to be referring to Act 10 in his claim of “leaders who seek to divide us rather than bring us together.” There was nothing unifying about taxpayers being stuck with the highest state and local taxes in the U.S. to pay for the Cadillac benefits of government employees. Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans wanted government employees to pay for their benefits (benefits far better than average workers, for which they pay far less than average workers). There is no evidence that school administrators or school boards want to go back to the pre-Act 10 days. None.
As of 2016 according to the Business Journal, Wisconsin teachers made on average in 2016 $53,458. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, that is higher than the state’s per capita personal income of $47,275. According to Point Homes, that’s higher than this state’s median family income of $52,893, and 80 percent of this state’s average family income of $66,432. (I include this only as perspective for those who will be clamoring to return to the pre-Act 10 days, not to suggest that teachers don’t earn the money they make. Better a teacher be paid than a desk occupant in some state office building or city hall. In fact, I’d prefer teachers be paid more and administrators be paid less because there are far fewer of them.)
I look forward to finding out about this “coalition of Democrats, Independents and Republicans” Evers claims he created. Since the Legislature, not Evers, controls school funding and mandates what schools must do, I look forward as well to Evers’ outlining his actual accomplishments, not glomming on to what the Legislature (or Congress) mandates schools to do.
There is, however, a snapshot of what Evers might be like as a governor, by RightWisconsin:
In one of the rare moments of bipartisanship in Washington under President Barack Obama, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. It was not just exchanging one clever name for a better acronym. ESSA gave states more flexibility for using federal dollars to fix failing schools.
Some states have been bolder than others in creating ESSA plans. Put Wisconsin in the “others” category.
As CJ Szafir and Libby Sobic of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty explain in a op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, the ESSA process in Wisconsin has been controlled by Evers.
“To create the illusion of accountability, Mr. Evers formed the Equity in ESSA Council, an advisory board made up of legislators, school administrators, union leaders and education reformers,” Szafir and Sobic wrote. “In truth, however, the council has no power to set the agenda or control the provisions of the state’s ESSA proposal.”
As Wisconsin Watchdog reported, the chairman of the state Assembly committee on education was kept completely in the dark about the ESSA Council until it was brought to his attention by the reporter. So much for being able to work with the legislature.
Evers used that autonomy to protect the status quo. As Szafir and Sobic wrote:
This flawed process has resulted in a flawed plan, one that reflects the status quo mind-set of the state bureaucracy. The proposal suggests, for example, that school administrators “engage with families and the local community” as one way to meet ESSA’s requirement of “rigorous state-determined action” to fix low-performing schools. Compare that with New Mexico’s plan, under which rigorous action includes forced closure of schools or charter-school takeovers. In Wisconsin, more than 53,000 children attend schools that failed to meet expectations according to last year’s state report card, and they deserve more than “engagement.”
The Wisconsin plan would also pass up the opportunity for the state to assume greater discretion over federal education dollars. Delaware’s proposal, by contrast, would use federal funding to drive improvement: Each low-performing school would receive an allotment based on enrollment while also competing for additional merit-based awards. Wisconsin’s education department has declined to consider similar ideas.
So far, ESSA has been a missed opportunity for Wisconsin, a state struggling with low-performing public schools and the widest racial achievement gap in the country.
Given Evers oft-stated criticisms without foundation of school choice, his protection of educators with very troubling records, his refusal to take an active role in fixing failing Milwaukee Public Schools and his opposition to Act 10, Evers’ behavior regarding ESSA reforms should not be surprising. We have a pretty good picture of what kind of leader of Wisconsin Evers would be, and the Democrats should try to do better when picking their party’s nominee for governor.
Evers is able to win statewide elections, unlike nearly every other Democrat. As someone else pointed out, so has Secretary of State Douglas La Follette, whose career hasn’t advanced past being the keeper of the state seal. Conservatives have never taken the superintendent position seriously (perhaps due to the fact in the previous paragraph), so they’ve never run, say, a legislator who has been at the front lines of education regulation in this state.
Evers’ supporters may be shocked to find out that, although education takes up a huge part of government spending, government does other things besides education. Since he apparently wants every last dollar of taxes (that he shortly will propose steeply increasing) to go to schools, one wonders how Evers proposes to increase funding for transportation, Medicaid and other entitlements that are sucking up a progressively larger percentage of the state budget.