As in the rest of the nation, Wisconsin’s public school system is under assault from corporate America and the religious right, who’d sacrifice the nation’s youth to an educational theory that puts the market in control of academic quality.
Fortunately, on Feb. 22, voters went to the polls and rejected the radical agenda of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her Wisconsin acolytes. In a three-way nonpartisan primary race, incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, a champion of public schools, won 69 percent of the vote over two DeVos enthusiasts.
Lowell Holtz, retired superintendent of the Whitnall School District, came in second in the race with 23 percent of the vote. Former Dodgeville school administrator John Humphries placed third with 7 percent of the vote.
But Evers still has a general election to face on April 4, and far-right interests could pour unseemly amounts of money into defeating him. While he’s gained wide respect among moderates and liberals during his two terms in office, we have seen in the state how strong of a force dark money can be in elections, especially in down-ticket races.
We urge readers to get behind Evers’ campaign now and encourage others to study the issues and facts in this vital race. Ravaged by budget cuts and social injustice, our public school systems need an experienced, competent leader such as Evers rather than another flak beholden to corporate interests.
Both of Evers’ primary challengers supported DeVos’s plan to starve the public school system of funding by redirecting tax dollars to for-profit voucher and religious schools that operate free of standards, regulations and union protections for teachers.
DeVos was highly successful at developing charter schools in her native Michigan. Most of them, however, have recorded student test scores in reading and math below the state average.
DeVos was the chair of the American Federation of Children, which since 2010 has spent at least $4.5 million on campaigns in Wisconsin to elect Republicans and other school choice advocates, according to One Wisconsin Now.
Among the many problems with voucher schools: They can use taxpayer dollars to support religious institutions and their beliefs to students. For instance, they could take taxpayer dollars and use them to replace the teaching of science and evolution with the teaching of “creationism.” They could eliminate sex education and promote the view that homosexuality is a sin and women must obey men.
They could teach history courses that overlook slavery, the contributions of immigrants and other issues despised by right-wing revisionists.
DeVos told The Gathering, a philanthropic group that promotes fundamentalist Christianity, “Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”
Do we want a state superintendent who supports that line of thinking? Holtz is in awe of Donald Trump’s choice of DeVos as Education Secretary. He called it a “great opportunity to help schools across the nation by reducing regulatory burdens.”
Education experts disagree. She’s never stepped foot inside a public school. She’s never been involved in education. She’s so unqualified for the position Trump gave her that two GOP senators voted against her confirmation, resulting in an evenly split vote of 50-50. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote giving her a position that puts the nation’s entire K-12 education system at risk.
In addition to his misguided adulation of DeVos, Holtz comes with other baggage. During the primary, he and Humphries battled publicly over a backroom deal they were working on with an undisclosed “business leader.” The deal’s goal was to get one of them to drop out of the race in exchange for a bribe worth $500,000.
When the deal negotiations went public, the two candidates turned against each other with a vengeance, each blaming the other. It was an ugly spectacle, unworthy of candidates seeking great influence over Wisconsin’s youth.
“Both revealed their willingness to jettison ethics and commitment to public service at the slightest hint of political advantage,” said One Wisconsin Now executive director Scot Ross.
Perhaps this is the sort of decadence that defines the Trump era. But Wisconsin is better than that. Go to tonyforwisconsin.com and learn what you can do to help.