2017 Elections

Marquette University Law School’s Candidate Forum for State Superintendent Race

On Tuesday, March 28th, Marquette Law School hosted a candidate forum for the State Superintendent race. The Candidates are incumbent Tony Evers and his challenger Lowell Holtz.

View of current budget proposal that includes an increase of $200 per child? Both candidates support the budget. Dr. Evers pointed out that the increased money needs to be distributed equitably not equally. The public supports public education which is clear by the number of school referenda that passed in 2016. Dr. Holtz believes that the State will provide adequate funding but notes that higher funding doesn’t correlate to higher achieving schools. Dr. Evers pointed out that schools need adequate resources. Choice school websites list small class sizes and facilities when they are trying to sell their school to parents. These are items that cost money.

Why aren’t things better in the Milwaukee Public Schools? Dr. Evers stated that MPS is improving. Test scores are up and instruction has been made more consistent across the district. This is important for the very mobile student population being served by MPS. There has been progress with special education, fewer suspensions, and an increase in students in summer school. The biggest problem in MPS is the abject poverty and student’s home life that affect learning. The district needs to provide more help to students with social and emotional issues. Dr. Holtz pointed out that Wisconsin is the worst state in the nation for graduation gap and has largest incarceration rate of black males. The failure is the fault of the current system in place. There are two ways out of poverty – education or crime. School improvement grants are not helpful. There needs to be more innovation and higher expectations. Parents should be given more control.

Alleged deal between Dr. Holtz and primary challenger John Humphries? Dr. Holtz denied that there was anything more than a policy conversation with Humphries. Dr. Evers stated he didn’t expect there to be an integrity issue in this race and was bothered by the idea that these two candidates would be discussing one of them backing the other to obtain a job to control the five largest school districts.

Vouchers? Dr. Evers pointed to studies indicating no difference in achievement between public schools and voucher schools. The reason for this is that the kids are still coming from the same place. Dr. Holtz pointed to a study that did make this claim. Dr. Evers stated that the study compares apples to giraffes especially because it did not take special education students into account. Dr. Holtz stated that he agreed with Dr. Fuller, prior MPS Superintendent, that parents shouldn’t be forced to send their child to a failing school. Dr. Evers stated that one reason for vouchers could be that we determine giving parents a choice is in the common good. He stated this was a fine idea so long as the goal is to make sure that public schools are not adversely effected by vouchers.

Closing of Failing Voucher Schools? Dr. Holz stated that Wisconsin’s voucher and choice system are the most regulated in the nation. Wisconsin has closed down voucher schools. Dr. Evers disagreed stating that no voucher school has never been closed due to failing students. They have been closed due to financial irregularities or building violations. He went on to point out that the State Superintendent has no authority to close voucher schools or even public schools.

Changes in federal policy with new administration? Dr. Holtz saw the Trump administration’s policies as an opportunity to remove federal overreach including common core and provide more local control. He was concerned about reduction in teacher training funds. Dr. Evers indicated that he was very concerned about the cuts proposed by this administration which includes $3.5 million to Wisconsin for teacher professional development as well as cuts or elimination of funding for after school programs, pre-college scholarship, public TV and radio, and public libraries. It is pointed out that many of these cuts may not make it through the Congress, but it should be noted that this is the first public policy position of this Administration.

Teacher pipeline? Dr. Holtz stated that we need to keep good people in the profession by eliminating unnecessary work such as entering data for reports. We need to return safety and discipline to our schools. We need to find creative ways to keep teachers in the profession. High school students need to see their teachers enjoying the job which will make them want to become teachers as well. Dr. Evers stated Wisconsin already has a teacher shortage born out of Act 10. There needs to be a change in rhetoric around the teaching profession. We need to start honoring teachers and increasing their pay. We need to start talking up teaching as a profession to our young people.

Notes taken by one of our AFE board members.

For Alan Borsuk’s takeaway on the debate, here’s a link to his blog post.