He was elected Wisconsin state superintendent of public instruction in 2009 and re-elected in 2013.
What is your political or philosophical overview that guides your views on school vouchers?
My friend former Sen. Dale Schultz often said, “We can’t afford the school system we have, how can we afford two -- a public and private one?”
It is a good question. Recent Fiscal Bureau reports indicate that more than 200 districts (almost half) would have received more state aid without the changes in voucher funding that shifted cost to local districts.
When we move past the ideological battles, we’re left with tough choices about priorities and responsibilities. Bottom line: We have a constitutional obligation to provide an education for every kid in this state, from Winter to West Salem.
Our friends and neighbors are stepping up to pass referendums at historic rates to keep the lights on in rural schools. It is an admirable, but unsustainable effort that leaves too many kids behind. Expanding vouchers while underfunding rural schools exacerbates the problem.
That said, we all know the current majorities in Madison and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos voucher expansion, so here are some key principles for moving forward:
1. The state should adequately fund our public school system before expanding vouchers;
2. The state, rather than local school districts, should pay the full cost of the voucher program.
3. Accountability should apply equally to all publicly funded schools, including voucher schools.
What makes you a more qualified candidate than your opponent?
I’ve been an educator all my adult life.
I taught and became a principal in Tomah, was an administrator in Oakfield and Verona, led CESA 6, and have twice been elected state superintendent. I’ve been an educator all across Wisconsin, and no matter where I worked, I put kids first -- always.
But I have to tell you, I worry for the future. Years of relentless attacks on educators and public schools have left a generation of young people disinterested in teaching.
As state superintendent, I have always tried to find common ground, while holding firm to the values we share.
What’s the best way to hold schools accountable for the success of their students?
The current report card system is a good place to start. It needs a few tweaks that we are working to make, but overall is a helpful tool. It is also crucial for there to be stability in the report card system. A measuring tool that continues to change year after year is not an instrument that our schools can use to see if their students are improving.
What do you like or dislike about and what should be done with the current school funding formula?
The vast majority of citizens of the state believe the school funding system is broken. If we believe in equality in outcomes, we must believe in the equitable distribution of resources. The categorical aids for these kids has remained unchanged for many years. That is why I have continued to advocate for increasing all categorical aid for these children as well as weighting them in both the categorical per pupil aid as well as in the general aid formula. If the state does not recognize their obligations soon, I believe that it will be resolved in the courts.
Ultimately, I come down on the side of local control and support the eventual elimination of revenue limits. In my budget proposal, I requested a reasonable increase in revenue limits. In the future, these increases should be tied to the cost of living.
Should you win, what are your immediate goals following the election?
Promoting excellence for all children continues to be the defining work of my administration. An equitable education for all students is our priority, and it will continue to be as long as achievement gaps among student groups exist. This is what we must continue to do:
1. My current state budget request restates our fair funding proposal. Under my proposal, all students will receive a minimum amount of aid. To provide an extra lift for some students, the general aid formula will weight students living in poverty.
2. I initiated the Promoting Excellence for All program three years ago. This program provides information and strategies successfully used by Wisconsin educators to raise achievement of students of color, closing the gap between them and their peers.
3. I had the honor of leading the Council of Chief State School Officers’ effort to fully realize their commitment to equity. In early February, my colleagues released, in conjunction with the Aspen Institute, 10 specific opportunities that we, as state leaders will commit to remove barriers to equitable opportunities for all children. The commitments range from reallocating resources to designing accountability systems that have an equity lens and increasing a focus on culture, climate and social-emotional development.
- Compiled by Margaret Plevak