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.