On Tuesday, Tony Evers was elected by Wisconsin voters to his third term as state superintendent of schools, and he wasn’t merely re-elected. It was a tsunami. Evers carried 70 percent of the vote and his opponent, Lowell Holtz, only 30 percent.
Why is Tony Evers’ re-election as Wisconsin state superintendent of schools so remarkable? Well… Wisconsin is one of 25 super-majority Republican, trifecta states: Governor Scott Walker is an outspoken, far-right Republican, and both houses of the legislature boast huge Republican majorities. Wisconsin is the home of the nation’s oldest school voucher program in Milwaukee, then Racine, and, in 2013, expanded statewide. It is the state where, back in 2011, Governor Scott Walker and his legislature severely limited collective bargaining for public employees including teachers. It is a state whose legislature is now also considering an ALEC-designed plan for Education Savings Accounts—yet another kind of school vouchers. It is the state where Governor Walker tried to re-write the mission statement of its flagship university to emphasize job training and delete this clause: “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.” And it is the home of Reince Priebus.
So what happened in Tuesday’s election for state schools superintendent? Here is Scott Bauer of the Associated Press explaining the election of Evers over his opponent, Lowell Holtz: “The win keeps Evers in place as the only Democratic-backed statewide official in a meaningful office. Even though the race is officially nonpartisan, Evers had strong support from Democrats along with state and national teachers’ unions who favored his positions in support of increased funding for public schools and opposition to private school vouchers… Evers and Holtz disagreed on almost every major issue that’s come up in the campaign. Evers opposes expanding the private school choice program and supports Common Core academic standards, increasing funding for public schools and addressing teacher shortages across the state… Both candidates supported Walker’s budget sending $650 million more to schools. But they disagreed on Walker’s requirement that the bulk of that money be tied to schools that require employees to pay at least 12 percent of their health care costs. Evers opposes the provision, while Holtz backs it.”
Unlike our national education secretary, Betsy DeVos, both Wisconsin candidates brought some experience working in public schools, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “A Plymouth native, Evers, 65, worked as a teacher and principal before joining the Department of Public Instruction. Holtz, 59, worked as a parochial school teacher, police officer and principal, and has served as superintendent in the Whitnall and Beloit school districts.”
While the public school guy, Tony Evers was winning in Wisconsin with 70 percent of the vote, Betsy DeVos went to Fort Bragg in North Carolina and advocated school vouchers for families who are perfectly content with the schools provided by the U.S. Department of Defense for families on military bases. Valerie Strauss covered DeVos’s visit to Fort Bragg and provides the background on these schools: “More than 73,000 students attend 168 Defense Department schools in 11 foreign countries, seven U.S. states, Guam and Puerto Rico, according to the Department of Defense Education Activity, an agency that runs pre-K through 12th grade education programs for stationed military families. At Fort Bragg, N.C., there are eight schools that run from pre-K to eighth grade, with students attending high school off the military installation.”
It turns out the folks at Fort Bragg were not so impressed with Betsy DeVos’s proposal for school vouchers. A PTA president in one of the local pre-K-8 schools said: “I feel like public, private and charter schools need to be playing by the same rules…. and making sure the public system is up to snuff for our military children.” She added that parents would like a public high school added right on the base instead of any kind of voucher program. A spokesperson for the Military Impacted Schools Association said: “Rather than distributing scarce resources in the form of a new voucher program, the Federal Government should be making good on its obligation to all federally impacted school districts.”
And on Tuesday, the same day as Wisconsin’s election, Donald Trump expressed some impressions about education at a town hall event in Washington, D.C. He tried, not very convincingly, for a “shock doctrine” tone—implying that because things are so terrible, we need to privatize. Valerie Strauss shares his comments: “Why are the numbers so horrific in terms of education and what happens when somebody goes through school and then they can’t read?” Then he added that public education in American cities is “rough.” By contrast, “(S)ome of the charter schools in New York have been amazing. They’ve done incredibly well. People can’t get in, you can’t get in.”
On the one hand, we have Donald Trump’s wandering thinking about education and Betsy DeVos’s relentless and tiresome dogma, and, on the other hand, there is the political will of Wisconsin’s voters, 70 percent of whom voted for the public schools advocate. Here is a statement from a North Carolina lawyer and politician that perfectly describes the disconnect between what happened in Wisconsin on Tuesday and the education-speak of President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: “DeVos’s clueless testimony at her confirmation hearing was an embarrassment to billionaire dilettantes everywhere, but ‘alternatives’ to public schools remain wildly popular with what Bernie Standers calls ‘the billionaire class.’ Most Americans are more skeptical. Americans don’t regard public schools as creeping socialism or public school teachers as union thugs, and don’t support looting public schools to pay for charters or private schools.”