The advocacy work of educators and citizens at the local level is generating enormous support for public education throughout the state, State Superintendent Tony Evers said Saturday in an address to the WEAC Professional Issues Conference.
Evers, who is running for re-election on April 4, noted that in last fall’s election, 84% of school referendums in Wisconsin were approved – and most by huge margins.
“The same people who had anxiety about their own lot in life, the same people who didn’t like government much, the same people who voted for Donald Trump, voted to increase taxes on themselves to make sure their public schools would stay strong,” he said.
When you combine last fall’s election results with those from last April, he said, “600,000 people in the state of Wisconsin voted to increase taxes on themselves to make sure their public schools stay strong.”
“That’s a lot of people, and I can guarantee you at least half of them were Republicans,” Evers said. “So, what that tells me is that our communities support their public schools, period. It’s not a Democrat issue, it’s not a Republican issue, it’s a kid issue.”
Superior citizens, for example, voted last April by a huge margin to raise their taxes by $100 million despite fact the community is going through difficult times.
Evers said he would love to take credit for such results, but, he said, “It’s the local teachers, the local kids, the local parents that have consistently convinced their local folks that public schools are the most important thing for them whether they have kids in public schools or not.”
However, funding public schools through referendums is not sustainable and we must increase state funding for schools, he said.
Evers said we should never be ashamed to ask for more money for public education, and continuous pressure at the local level will make a difference, as evidenced by the fact that Governor Walker this year is proposing more money for public education, which contrasts with his past budgets.
“This movement, this change in rhetoric from some of our leaders, from the governor and Legislature, it happened because of pressure from you local folks,” Evers said. “We absolutely have changed that conversation, but we changed it at the local level, it did not happen at the state level.”
Evers also said it’s important when distributing state funding to local schools to address equity and make sure communities with kids who are struggling the most get more money.
Citing the growing teacher shortage in Wisconsin, Evers also said it’s important that we “change the rhetoric around our profession” to attract more young people and retain quality educators.
The answer, he said, is not to “dumb down” the profession but to change the way we as a society talk about teaching and education and restore respect to the profession. “This kind of animosity that has been brought on by Act 10 and continued thus far, we just have to change the rhetoric, and I know we can.”
Images from the Professional Issues Conference: