Tony Evers. (Flickr/WisPolitics.com)
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced that he would use his upcoming budget to expand private-school voucher programs, even some Republican legislators objected.
But the loudest objection to Walker’s approach, and to the broader national push to shift taxpayer dollars away from public education and toward private experiments, came from Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. Evers, an educator who in 2009 was elected to lead the state's Department of Public Instruction, appeared before the legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee and in communities across Wisconsin to state that opposition. “This has to stop,” he said. “The state cannot continue to play favorites. We can and must meet our constitutional obligation to invest in all of our kids.”
Complaining that the previous Walker budget had cut $1.8 billion from public schools, Evers argued that it was wrong for the governor to use his 2013-15 state budget plan to essentially freeze public school funding while hiking spending for private voucher school students by as much as $1,400 each.
Staking out so clear a position in opposition to the governor’s agenda—not just on vouchers but on a host of education policy issues—was risky. Evers was up for reelection and he faced a determined challenge from Republican state Representative Don Pridemore, a steady supporter of Walker’s legislative agenda. The governor did not make an endorsement in the nonpartisan race and that miffed Pridemore, one of the most conservative members of the legislature. But the challenger's campaign was cheered on by the Republican Assembly Speaker, conservative radio hosts and activists.
A well-regarded and easy-going figure, Evers could easily have mounted a cautious campaign for the statewide post.
Instead, he campaigned across the state prior to Wisconsin’s April 2 statewide election with a message that Walker’s voucher scheme posed a threat to public education.
“This money isn’t coming from Madison. This money is coming directly from your school districts,” Evers told teachers and parents. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what the priority is here,” Evers said. “It’s not public schools. It’s voucher schools. It’s privatization, and don’t let anybody tell you differently.”