Tag Archives: Tony Evers

DeVos supporter emerges from primary to run for Wisconsin schools chief

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.

UGLY SPECTACLE

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.

 

 

Right-wing candidates for state school superintendent call each other liars

Wisconsin state  school superintendent candidates John Humphries and Lowell Holtz accused one another of being liars on Friday, while a Democratic lawmaker told Humphries at an unusual Capitol news conference that “we don’t want you.”

Humphries called the news conference, just four days before the primary election, to “clear the air” and be “entirely transparent” about a job offer that Holtz allegedly presented at a December meeting. Holtz responded by saying the race had become a “three ring circus” and that it was Humphries, not he, who was lying about the alleged deal.

Humphries and Holtz are courting conservative voters who favor the expansion of voucher schools in an attempt to knock off two-term incumbent Superintendent Tony Evers. Democrats, teachers unions and other public school advocates all back Evers.

The race for state school superintendent is officially nonpartisan. The two top vote-getters in tomorrow’s primary will face each other April 4.

Humphries first discussed the December breakfast meeting he had with Holtz during a live radio debate. Humphries alleged that Holtz offered him a $150,000 state job, along with a driver, and broad authority to run or reorganize the state’s five largest school districts if he dropped out of the race.

Holtz said the ideas were a “rough draft” and came from a business leader that both he and Humphries have refused to name. Humphries said Holtz came up with the proposal and is now lying about his involvement in crafting it.

Humphries presented emails and other documents at the news conference that he said backed up his claims. Those emails included ones Humphries sent where he discusses the job offer as something Holtz had presented.

In another twist, Humphries said at a Dec. 23 meeting that he invited Holtz to be a consultant for his campaign if he didn’t get in the race.

“I have nothing to hide. I’m happy to share all the information with you,” Humphries said, before again refusing to name the business leader who facilitated the meeting. He said the person asked to remain anonymous and that it was up to Holtz to reveal his name.

One Dec. 22 email from the person that Humphries released, with the sender’s name blacked out, stressed that it should be kept secret that he and Holtz were talking about working together to defeat Evers.

“I am confident that if you can work together your chances of succeeding will increase from about 20 percent to about 70 percent,” the email said.

Holtz, a former Beloit superintendent and 1999 Wisconsin elementary school teacher of the year, also refused to name the person in a statement he released following Humphries’ news conference.

“Today’s three ring circus hosted by Mr. Humphries is another attempt to malign me and misrepresent, or more accurately lie about, this issue,” Holtz said. “It is unfortunate that Mr. Humphries is focused more on the politics of personal destruction than on the real reason candidates, including myself, should be in this race, which is to help improve the education and future of our children and grandchildren.”

The job offer was branded “bizarre” by Gov. Scott Walker, who also is a voucher school advocate.

The state school superintendent race took another odd turn when, during Friday’s news conference, Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, confronted Humphries while he was fielding questions from reporters.

“We don’t want you and your corporate special interests coming into our schools,” Taylor said.

 

DeVos supporters want to lead Wisconsin schools

Wisconsin voters will soon have to decide whether to elect Tony Evers to a third term as superintendent of public instruction, or to replace him with one of two voucher school advocates who support Betsy DeVos, Trump’s controversial Secretary of Education.

There’s a primary election on Feb. 21 and a general election on April 4. The position is non-partisan.

While Evers is a public-school supporter and outspoken critic of expanding voucher schools, his opponents John Humphries and Lowell Holtz both want to see more voucher schools in the state.

DeVos, a billionaire who’s never been inside a public school, also is a champion of voucher schools. As chair of the American Federation for Children, she was a leading advocate of the movement to privatize public education through laws requiring the use of public funds to pay for private school tuition in the form of vouchers and similar programs, according to The Washington Post.

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.

Since 2010, AFC has spent at least $4.5 million on campaigns in Wisconsin to elect Republicans and other school choice advocates, according to the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now.

Such leadership by DeVos draws praise from Evers’ challengers.

Holtz, the former superintendent in Beloit and Whitnall, called DeVos’ confirmation a “positive development for the future of America’s children.”

Humphries, a former Dodgeville schools administrator, told AP that DeVos has a “great opportunity to help schools across the nation by reducing regulatory burdens that take the focus from students and teachers.”

Among the regulations that trouble many voucher school supporters are restrictions on religious teachings in public schools. Many would replace the teaching of science and evolution with the teaching of “creationism,” for instance. They would also eliminate sex education and promote their view of homosexuality as a sin and of men as being superior to women.

DeVos belongs to a Calvinist group that believes the wealthy are blessed and the poor are undeserving. Underscoring her purpose in privatizing schools, 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.”

If either Humphries or Holtz succeeds in replacing Evers, it’s unclear whether they will seek to bring religion into the classroom as DeVos has. In recent years, conservatives have rejected the concept of separation of church and state.

A Humphries or Holtz victory could prove divisive on that issue as well as the voucher school movement in general.

Supreme Court deals Walker a blow on education case

A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court dealt Gov. Scott Walker a loss yesterday in upholding a ruling that preserves the independence of the state’s elected education secretary and denies the governor power of veto over the Department of Public Instruction.

The court’s conservative majority was split on whether to overturn its unanimous ruling from 20 years ago that solidified the state superintendent’s independence as head of the Department of Public Instruction. The high court’s 4–3 decision rejects arguments made by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel and upholds two lower court rulings.

The state constitution “requires the Legislature to keep the supervision of public instruction in the hands of officers of supervision of public instruction,” Justice Michael Gableman wrote for the majority. “To do otherwise would require a constitutional amendment.”

Superintendent Tony Evers has opposed overturning the law, saying the case was about preserving the office’s role as a nonpartisan constitutional officer in charge of implementing and overseeing education policy.

Evers hailed the ruling, calling it a “victory for public education and the future of our state.”

“More than anything else, this ruling provides much needed stability for our schools and the students they serve,” Evers said in a statement. “I hope we can now get back to focusing on what works best for our kids.”

Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson did not address the court’s ruling directly in his reaction. Instead, he said Walker would “continue to advocate for policies that prioritize student success.”

“Governor Walker is dedicated to challenging the status quo when it impedes the ability of parents, school boards, and students to get the best educational outcomes,” Evenson said.

Justice Department spokesman Johnny Koremenos said the agency is reviewing the decision and has no immediate comment.

The case focused on a 2011 law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Walker that gave the governor veto power over administrative rules pursued by the state superintendent. That raised questions about whether the law amounted to a violation of the 1996 state Supreme Court ruling that the office was independent of the governor’s control.

The state Justice Department argued that if the court’s 1996 ruling prohibits the Legislature from making a change to administrative rules, then the decision should be overturned. The department’s attorney argued that if the state superintendent is unhappy with the governor’s decision relative to rules, he can always go back to the Legislature and try to get it reversed.

The law is unconstitutional because it does not allow DPI and the secretary “to proceed with their duties of supervision without the Governor’s, and in some circumstances the Secretary of Administration’s approval,” Gableman wrote.

The 2011 law required all state agencies to get approval from the governor before drafting new administrative rules — the legal language that enacts agency policies and laws passed by the Legislature. Under previous law, the rules were written by state agencies and reviewed by the Legislature, but not the governor, before taking effect.

Parents and members of the teachers’ union, with backing from organizations representing school administrators and school boards, filed a lawsuit in 2011 challenging the portion of the law that gives the governor the ability to block rules at DPI. They argued that the law gives the governor more power than the independently elected state superintendent, contrary to the court’s 1996 ruling.

The 1996 ruling arose from a case challenging then-Gov. Tommy Thompson’s attempt to transfer powers from DPI into a new Department of Education under the control of the governor. At the time, the court unanimously ruled that the state superintendent is in charge of education policy in Wisconsin and that the governor and Legislature can’t give “equal or superior authority” to anyone else.

Those supporting the governor’s position and opposing Evers include School Choice Wisconsin, a group that advocates for taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools, and the state chamber of commerce.

Gableman was joined in the majority ruling by Justices David Prosser, Anne Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson. Those dissenting were Chief Justice Pat Roggensack and justices Annette Ziegler and Rebecca Bradley.

The dissenting justices argued that those challenging the law had not proven that it was unconstitutional.

Republicans and Dems united in opposition to Walker’s budget

Republicans and Democrats are both lined up in opposition to many of the key items in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s $68-billion budget proposal. 

Bipartisan resistance is growing to Walker’s plans to borrow $1.3 billion to pay for road construction and infrastructure projects, cut $300 million from the University of Wisconsin System, and pay for an expansion of the private school voucher program by taking money from public schools while holding their funding flat.

Walker’s budget also requires drug testing for public benefit recipients, which has proven costly in some states and ruled unconstitutional in others. The budget eliminates 400 state government positions, slashes funds for public broadcasting and weakens environmental oversight.

Walker says his plan offers bold ideas to reshape government, which is the emerging theme of his fledgling presidential campaign. Throughout the first month of his second term, Walker has been largely missing in Madison as he travels the country to court big-bucks conservative donors, meet with right-wing national leaders and build his name recognition among tea party supporters.

In Wisconsin, the Legislature’s GOP leadership is balking about the budget Walker is asking them to approve. They’ve been particularly outspoken about increasing borrowing by 30 percent to pay for highway projects, the majority of which are unnecessary, according to traffic studies.

“The biggest heartburn I have in regards to the proposed budget is the amount of bonding,” said budget committee member Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst. “I know there’s a number of my colleagues who are quite concerned about that.”

Walker’s Department of Transportation had recommended $750 million in higher taxes and fees, including on gasoline and vehicle registrations, to pay for roads. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other corporate-right groups had supported a modest gas tax increase.

But deferring, perhaps, to the anti-tax tea party voters who dominate Republican primaries, Walker nixed all tax or fee increases in favor of issuing bonds that won’t come due until he’s long gone. That drew criticism more than 400 local governments, road builders and labor unions.

Republicans also are joining Democrats in questioning Walker’s $300 million cut to UW, which amounts to 13 percent of the system’s budget. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the cut would create a $91-million budget hole at the system’s flagship school. Vos has said he’s worried the cut will make it more difficult for students to graduate in four years.

Along with his budget cut, Walker has proposed to give the system’s 26 campuses more autonomy and freedom from state laws and oversight, something university officials have lobbied for years to get. Although university officials have better received that part of the plan, many observers fear that it would embolden tuition hikes that would make college in the state less affordable than it already is.

UW-Madison faculty and staff planned to stage a rally and march on Feb. 14 to protest Walker’s proposed cuts to the UW System. The event, “Stop the Cuts — Save UW,” was set to begin at noon on the Library Mall. The Overpass Light Brigade planned a separate action at 6 p.m., when the group will spell out protest messages in lights.

While cutting UW funding, Walker’s budget would hold funding for public schools flat, while removing a 1,000-student cap on the private-school voucher program. Going forward, the program would be available to students transferring in from public schools at any point, and also private school students entering kindergarten, the first grade or ninth grade. Money to pay for it would come from state aid sent to the schools losing the student.

No increase in funding for schools amounts to a cut because they won’t be able to keep up with growing expenses, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. And, he added, taking money away from schools to pay for voucher students only compounds the problem, Evers said.

Democrats have criticized Walker and Republicans for using a previous surplus to pay for nearly $2 billion in tax cuts primarily benefiting corporations and the very wealthy over the past four years. Those tax cuts helped fuel the current budget gap.

With the budget now introduced, the debate now shifts to the Legislature, where lawmakers will spend the next four months working over Walker’s proposal before voting on it likely sometime in June.

Meanwhile, Walker will spend the coming months on the presidential campaign trail.