I believe in public education. Education provides a ladder of opportunity for kids. I owe who I am today to Wisconsin’s public schools, and I am proud of where we stand. We have high graduation rates, suspensions are down, attendance is up, and we are working to expand career and technical education.
But I don’t live in a bubble. We have serious challenges facing our schools. A larger share of our kids live in poverty, one in five students has a mental health need, and we have a growing teacher shortage that is furthered by divisive rhetoric. Rural schools are facing declining enrollment and are struggling to keep the lights on. We have a broken funding system that does not fulfill the promise of lifting all kids up through education.
I have worked with folks across the state and political spectrum to address each and every one of these seemingly intractable problems. These issues are decades in the making and require consistent, steadfast leadership. Top-down mandates that increase bureaucracy, remove local control or take over school districts simply do not work.
Solving these problems isn’t easy and finding common ground is critical. I remain absolutely positive about the future because I am in a school once a week, getting the scoop directly from kids.
I was blown away in the Fox Valley by an entire community’s efforts to tackle mental health issues. Collaboration among health care providers, nonprofits and the district are making a huge impact on the daily lives of kids. When you walked down the hall, you could feel the difference in the students.
Up north, three incredible high school students tried to teach me how to use a potter’s wheel. My first attempt was a failure, and I ended up with clay in my hair, but what I did learn is that these young people valued the arts as an integral part of their education.
On these trips, I always ask: What can Wisconsin do to make sure all kids are ready for the future? The reasons vary, but the answers usually have the same theme: resources. School districts want to do everything they can for their kids, but they can only do so much without state support.
While I would have done things a little differently, I’m proud that much of my pro-kid budget proposal has advanced. In recent years, too many of our school districts have turned to local citizens to fill the void created by the cuts to funding. During the past year alone, 80 percent of the school district referendums passed. From Superior to Oconomowoc, over 600,000 voters supported their public schools by increasing their own taxes.
These communities understood that their public schools accept every child who walks through the doors: kids with two parents and a white picket fence, kids with special needs, and kids who come to school hungry. In turn, the schools know that they are accountable to the local community for ensuring that every kid is a graduate and college- and career-ready. They understand that this is a community’s investment in the future because education is the driving engine of an economy.
Funding public schools is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It’s about ensuring our public schools can provide the same opportunity for all.
As state superintendent, I am an advocate for Wisconsin’s 860,000 students. I have never and will never pit the kids who have against those who do not. I’m proud but not surprised that in 2016, kids beat partisan politics in the voting booth.
I believe in Wisconsin’s public schools. I’m asking for your vote — a vote to support Wisconsin’s proud tradition and commitment to public education.
Tony Evers is the incumbent and is seeking his third term as state superintendent of public instruction.